Archive for ‘An inclusive society’ Category

Heartless commuters

datePosted on 13:33, March 5th, 2010 by Lew


Image used without permission (but with thanks!), by David Fawcett.

Earlier in the week, while having lunch with Pablo and his partner (and a good time it was, too), I mentioned that I’d been meaning to blog about the shambolic state of Wellington’s rail network.

Without straying too far into Poneke’s territory, I catch the train frequently, and rarely does a week go by without some sort of unexplained service failure, mysteriously absent or egregiously late train — sometimes but not always replaced by a bus, or a random stop in the middle of nowhere for half an hour or so. I’ve spent a lot of time — weeks at a stretch — on trains, mostly in Asia where they’re cheap and reasonably comfortable, range in speed from 50 to 350 kilometres per hour and are often simply the most efficient means of getting around.

Let’s just say that almost none of these things hold true in New Zealand. And out of respect for the look of incredulity those two Aucklanders gave me when I mentioned the Wellington network, I won’t complain too much about it, but instead draw your attention to this incredible blog about the travails of taking twins on the Auckland trains. Now, I don’t care much for mummy-blogging, but this is serious in a country which considers itself to civilised and populated by friendly and open people:

So on Thursday night it was with resignation that I saw that most of the seats in the wheelchair section were taken. True to form, most of the passengers carefully ignored us, though if they had just squeezed up a bit there would have been room to lift a seat up and park the twins. Instead I put the pushchair in the doorway (carefully working out which door on the express train would not be used until my stop in Papakura) and sat on the floor. I’d been on the go for 11 hours already, and Finn was awake and fussy. I sat him on my knee and talked to him to keep him happy and quiet. I’m well aware that other people don’t want to listen to grumpy babies on their way home, so I work damn hard to keep them entertained.
The passenger operator for our carriage, an older Indian man, had been up and down the aisle without comment several times. Shortly before Manurewa, three-quarters of the way home, Finn got hungry. I started breastfeeding him, this being what you do with hungry babies. Suddenly the passenger operator freaked out. He finally asked the passengers to move, since we could not sit there! We had to move! It was for security reasons! We had to move now!
I asked him to wait two seconds, as I knew Finn was nearly finished. The PO pulled the pushchair with Vieve asleep in it away from me and the door, then left it in the middle of the aisle without the brake on, leaving me to try to detach Finn hurriedly and discreetly, stand up on a moving train with a baby on my hip, stop the pushchair rolling away with my foot, lift up a seat and secure it, and park the pushchair.
I was angry, but at least I had a seat, and the bubs were out of the way. And then the PO CLICKED HIS FINGERS IN MY FACE, stormed past and slammed the carriage door.
Apparently he went to get the train manager, as next thing I had another large angry man in my face. Who told me I wasn’t entitled to be on the train with my children.
When I challenged him on that, he backtracked to say that I was endangering my children by taking them on the train when there wasn’t room, and he would never take HIS kids on the train like that. (Presumably, if I’m allowed out of the kitchen, I should hang around in town until 8pm when the trains are emptier?)

One thing about trains everywhere I’ve used them — even in China, which is among the rudest countries in the world — is that people tend to look after the frail and elderly, and women with babies,as a matter of some sort of civic responsibility. This is true to an extent on the Wellington buses and trains, so Auckland public transport users, what the hell is your problem? Is this the neoliberal atomisation about which people have been ruminating of late, or what?

L

A walking, talking, living advertisement

datePosted on 14:50, March 1st, 2010 by Lew

… for why civilised societies which hope to remain civilised don’t lock violent children up with hardened criminals in the hope that they’ll magically reform into model citizens.

I’m talking about Bailey Junior Kurariki, whose latest offences, according to criminologist John Pratt, are a sign he has become institutionalised. Of course, his victim’s mother doesn’t think so, and neither do the usual reactionaries. The other lot aren’t all that much better. But perhaps that’s to be expected: when the only tool your populist justice positioning allows you to wield is a hammer, even a screwed-up 12 year-old kid looks like a nail to be smacked down as hard as possible.

L

Life mimicking art: ask and tell

datePosted on 12:21, February 3rd, 2010 by Lew

Following President Obama’s undertaking in the State of the Union address, Admiral Michael Mullen (Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Robert Gates (US Secretary of Defense) have recommended an end to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy preventing homosexuals from openly serving in the US military, in testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee. While the arguments are not quite the same, the general position and line of rhetoric (“the troops will get over it”) was memorably presented a decade ago in The West Wing:

All that having been said, it’s neither the Chairman nor the Secretary nor the President’s call. It’s for Congress to decide, and at present the bill is thirtyish votes shy of passing. But if it is done, this will be a genie of sorts; once out of the bottle, no force will put it back in. If the armed forces are even faintly representative of wider society, there will be thousands — tens of thousands, even — of demonstrably capable, patriotic, decorated soldiers, including perhaps some in the very highest ranks of the service who, while perhaps not having a coming-out parade, will nevertheless feel gradually more free to leave the closet. A future administration will court political and military ruin if it embarks on a witchhunt to purge them all from the nation’s ranks, particularly given the extensive nature of the USA’s current military deployments.

Update: Thanks to Hugh and Pablo (in comments) for correcting me on whose “call” it is.

L

Bhadge

datePosted on 23:12, December 19th, 2009 by Lew

I’ve been very busy again this past week, and so the list of things I want to write about copiously exceeds my ability to write about them. My promised post about internecine disputes is in very early draft form but I’ll try and get it finished soon. I still have a post planned looking at the wider implications of the foreshore and seabed review, but I think that’ll have to wait until after I’ve painted the roof.

yep_im_a_redneck_button-p145980559379977550q37f_400I also wanted to write a lot about the final outcome of the h debate, but find that my views have already been pretty well encapsulated by Andrew Geddis and Idiot/Savant. You should also read Scott Hamilton’s latest on the wider topic of Pākehā separatism.

Given that the decision declares both ‘Wanganui’ and ‘Whanganui’ correct, but mandates crown usage of ‘Whanganui’, there’s as clear an implicit statement as can be that the latter is more correct than the former. This has been clearly understood by TVNZ and Radio NZ, who have adopted the latter usage as a matter of editorial policy. They are owned by the crown, after all, and both just happen to be in direct competition with Laws and his media employer. Permitting both spellings but making this declaration as to primacy was a move as shrewd as it was elegant by Maurice Williamson — similarly to John Key’s decision to permit the flying of a Māori flag if only Māori could agree on one. Michael Laws, Tariana Turia and Ken Mair have all claimed victory, so everyone with an actual stake is nominally happy. The Standardistas and the KBR are furious, which is a pretty good sign. It obviates the strongest symbolic position occupied by Laws, the idea that Wellington is coercing Wanganui into doing its PC bidding. Wellington need not — the rest of the country will do that, because the use of the no-h word will be an identity marker, a statement, like a badge; not quite “Yep, I’m a redneck” but something approaching it. The thing is that Laws and his rump of greying die-hards do not simply face a disorganised and discredited bunch of radical natives; they find themselves standing against the inexorable tide of civil society and its evolution, a youthful and browning population for whom biculturalism is the norm and separatism stopped being cool a generation ago (if it ever was).

Who knew that all Michael Laws wanted for his cause was an emasculating partial endorsement and a prolonged death sentence? He could have saved everyone (and his own reputation) a great deal of trouble by making this plain at the beginning. In other circumstances, I would be angry about everyone having been taken for a ride — but as it stands, I’m mostly just quietly pleased that civil society’s tendency toward self-correction will be left to do its thing.

L

A simmering pot soon to boil?

datePosted on 17:08, December 19th, 2009 by Pablo

>>This post has been updated<<.

Is it me or is there a lot of simmering anger percolating in NZ? A church puts an “edgy” advert on a billboard in order to promote thought on the meaning of Christmas and it gets attacked  and vandalized four times while bible-bashers and fundies go ballistic in the blogosphere defending the attackers and condemning the perceived insult. The government allows a (not “the”) Maori flag to fly alongside the conventional national (post-colonial) standard, and people go bat crazy over the”affront.” Words and phrases like “traitor” and “real patriot” get thrown about, and even otherwise civilized commentators set to ranting in invective-laden terms. Meanwhile news reports speak of increased violence throughout the land, many times within families and whanau , but not exclusively among the poor and disadvantaged. Contrary to NZ’s supposed reputation, tales of corruption high and low are now almost daily occurrences (be it nepotistic or corporate). Were one to just read the press, racial and ethnic conflict is the norm (understanding that press coverage does not lead but responds to public perception). Drink driving blitzes nab dozens of people on the piss (in spite of blanket coverage caution messages and a host of cheap or free driver services), parties degenerate into riots for trifling reasons, bullies continue to thrive, acts of senseless stupidity of various sorts are carried out on the streets and roads by quick to rage groups and individuals, and the “me-first, the hell with the rest” attitude permeates social discourse and interaction–all during what is supposed to be the season of peace.

What is up with that? New Zealand may have problems, but it it is a country with no real enemies, a benign climate, spectacular scenery and ample natural resources, an egalitarian social culture, and a traditionally  “can-do” attitude and spirit of volunteerism. It has no existential threats, a history of (pretty) good ethnic relations, a preference for tolerance, compassion and understanding, and, perhaps until recently, a record of good governance and political transparency. All of these traits are considered to be the exact requirements for peace and social stability, and in fact are considered to be the best insurance against social disharmony and anger. 

And yet, NZ is exhibiting signs of a polarised society stretched at the seams. This is more than annoyance at “dole bludgers,” ” troughers” and assorted easy to scapegoat miscreants and “others.” It does not seem to be entirely related to unemployment rates, arguments about climate change, or concerns about immigration. It is more than being fed up about political correctness or neoliberalism (although both may contribute to the syndrome). Instead, this appears to be an increasingly generalised symptom of a pervasive malaise deep at the core of Kiwi society. In fact, I may be alarmist but I see this as a society inching towards the end of its civilized rope. I have my own opinion as to what caused the decline (and have previously posted on it), but this recent spate of visceral anger, even if cloaked in virtuous or self-righteous terms, speaks to something darker in the NZ psyche.

So I ask again: am I crazy or is there something seriously wrong at the core of NZ society, and if so, where does it come from?

Oh, and BTW–Happy Holidays!

A Note on Progressive Praxis in Aotearoa

datePosted on 18:15, December 12th, 2009 by Pablo

The recent debates engaged here and elsewhere on the “proper” course to be taken by NZ Left/progressive politics has given me pause to think about the larger issue of Left/progressive praxis in a country such as this. I am on record as defending the class line-first approach, whereas Lew has quite eloquently expressed the primacy of identity politics (and, it should be noted, I am not as hostile to Lew’s line of thought as some of his other critics). But I do not think that the debate covered the entirety of the subject of Left/progressive praxis, and in fact may have detracted from it.  Thus what follows is a sketch of my view of how Left/progressive praxis needs to be pursued in Aotearoa.

First, let’s set the stage. NZ is dominated by market-driven ideologies. In its social, cultural, political and economic expression, capitalism is the primary and undisputed organising principle. Counter-ideological resistance can be found in all of these domains, but the supremacy of capitalism as a social construct is clear. Even so, when compared with the 1990s, this supremacy is not as unshakable. The global financial crisis, corporate greed, predatory lending, financial market manipulation and fraud, increasing income disparities, assorted mendacious acts of venality and corruption have all contributed to a decline in the ideological legitimacy of market-driven logics, including those espoused by its political representatives. That provides a window of opportunity for Left/progressives, even if their traditional sources of strength in the union movement are no longer capable of exercising decisive leadership of a counter-hegemonic sort. Hence the need for a different type of praxis.

The Left/progressive cause needs to be organized into two branches: a political branch and a social movement branch. In turn, each branch needs to be divided into militant and moderate wings. The political branch would encompass Left/progressive political parties such as the Greens and the Alliance as well as fringe parties willing to cooperate in a common venture such as the Communists, Socialist Workers and the like. Because Labour is no longer a genuine Left Party, its inclusion is problematic, but it is possible that its leftist cadres could be invited to participate. The idea is to form a genuine Left/progressive political coalition that serves as a political pressure group on the mainstream parties while offering real counter-hegemonic alternatives to voters in selected districts. One can envision a Left coalition banner running slates in targeted districts with strong subaltern/subordinate group demographics. The idea is to present a Left/progressive alternative to the status quo that, at a minimum, pressures Labour out of its complacency and conformity with the pro-market status quo. At a maximum it will siphon disaffected voters away from Labour and into a genuine Left/progressive political alternative. This may be hard to do, but it is not impossible if properly conceived and executed.

In parallel, the social movement branch should encompass the now somewhat disparate assortment of environmental, union, animal welfare, indigenous rights, GBLT rights and other advocacy groups under the banner of common cause and reciprocal solidarity. The unifying pledge would be that of mutual support and advocacy. It goes without saying that the political and social movement branches will have areas of overlap in the guise of individuals with feet in each camp, but their strategic goals will be different, as will be their tactics. But each would support the other: the social movement branch would endorse and actively Left/progressive candidates and policy platforms; the Left/progressive political branch would support the social movement causes. This mutual commitment would be the basis for formal ties between and within each branch. 

That brings up the moderate-militant wings. Each branch needs to have  both moderate and militant cadres if they are to be effective in pursuing a common agenda. The moderate wings are those that appear “reasonable” to bourgeois society, and who engage their politics within the institutional confines of the bourgeois state. The militant wings, on the other hand, are committed to direct action that transgresses established institutional boundaries and mores. Since this involves transgressing against criminal as civil law (even if non-violent civil disobedience such as the Plowshares action against the Echelon listening post in Blenheim), the use of small group/cell tactics rooted in autonomous decentralized acts and operational secrecy are paramount for survival and success.  The need for militancy is simple: it is a hedge against co-optation. Political and social militants keep their moderate brethren honest, which in turn allows the moderate wings to exploit the political space opened by militant direct action to pursue an incremental gains agenda in both spheres.

For this type of praxis to work, the key issues are those of organization and contingent compromise. Endongeonously, all interested parties in each branch will have to be capable of organizational unity, which means that principle/agent issues need to resolved in pursuit of coherent collective action, presumably in ways that forestall the emergence of the iron law of oligarchy that permits vanguardist tendencies to predominate. There are enough grassroots leaders and dedicated organisers already operating in the NZ milieu. The question is whether they can put aside their personal positions and parochial concerns in the interest of broader gains. That means that exogenously, these actors will need to find common ground for a unified platform that allows for reciprocal solidarity without the all-to-common ideological and tactical hair-splitting that is the bane of Left/progressive politics. The compromise between the political and social movement branches is contingent on their mutual support, but is designed to prevent co-optation of one by the other (such as what has traditionally tended to occur). If that can be achieved, then strategic unity between the political and social movement branches is possible, with strategic unity and tactical autonomy being the operational mantra for both moderate and militant wings.

On the face of things, all of this may sound quite simplistic and naive. After all it is only a sketch, and far be it for me, a non-citizen pontificating from my perch in authoritarian Asia, to tell Kiwi Left/progressives how to conduct their affairs. It may, in fact, be impossible to achieve given the disparate interests and personalities that would come into play, to say nothing of the resistance to such a project by the political status quo, Labour in particular. But the failures of Left/progressive praxis in NZ can be attributed just as much to its ideological and organizational disunity as it can be to the ideological supremacy and better organization of the Right. Moreover, Labour is in a position where it can no longer ignore groups that it has traditionally taken for granted, to include more militant union cadres who are fed up with being treated as corporate lapdogs and political eunuchs. Thus the time is ripe for a re-evaluation of Left/progressive strategy and action, particularly since the NACTIONAL agenda is now being fully exposed in all of its profit-driven, privatization-obsessed glory. Perhaps then, it is a time for a series of Left/Progressive summits in which all interested parties can attempt to forge a common strategy of action. It may take time to hash out such a platform, but the political rewards of such an effort could be significant. After all, la union hace la fuerza: with unity comes strength.

‘Blue collars, red necks’: triply flawed

datePosted on 14:27, December 4th, 2009 by Lew
To those who stick up for their identity, socialism sticks up two fingers!

To those who stick up for their identity, socialism sticks up two fingers!

In the coming years, core tenets of socialist and indigenist faith will be tested. Labour, with its recently-adopted ‘blue collars, red necks’ strategy, has struck out along a path which requires a large slice of its core constituency — Māori — to search their political souls and choose between the renewed Marxist orthodoxy which privileges class above all else; and the progressive social movements developed over the past three or four decades which have produced a society tolerant enough to permit their unprecedented cultural renaissance.

The strategy indicated by Phil Goff’s speech appears to be substantially based on the simple calculus, most forthrightly argued by Chris Trotter, that ‘social liberals’ are fewer in number than ‘social conservatives’ among the proletariat, and therefore an appeal to ‘social conservatism’ will deliver more votes than the equivalent appeal to ‘social liberalism’. This is couched as a return to the old values of the democratic socialist movement — class struggle, and anything else is a distraction. But because the new political strategy is founded upon an attack on Māori, it requires that working class solidarity wins out over indigenous solidarity and the desire for tino rangatiratanga in a head-to-head battle. Māori must choose to identify as proletarians first and tangata whenua second. Similarly, the māori party’s alignment with National and subsequent intransigence on issues such as the Emissions Trading Scheme asks Māori to privilege their indigeneity over material concerns.

An article of faith of both socialist and indigenist movements is that their referent of political identity trumps others: that all proletarians are proletarians first, and that all indigenous people are indigenous people above all else. In the coming years, unless Labour loses its bottle and recants, we will see a rare comparison as to which is genuinely the stronger. Much of the debate which has raged over this issue, and I concede some of my own contributions in this, has been people stating what they hope will occur as if it surely will. For this reason the test itself is a valuable thing, because it provides an actual observable data point upon which the argument can turn.

A spontaneous interlude: I write this on the train into Wellington, in a carriage full of squirming, shouting, eight and nine year-olds on a school trip to the city. In a (rare) moment of relative calm, a few bars of song carried from the next carriage, and the tune was taken up enthusiastically by the — mostly Pākehā — kids in my carriage.

Tūtira mai ngā iwi (aue!)
Tātou, tātou e.
(In English:
Line up together, people
All of us, all of us.)

Read into this what you wish; one of life’s little rorschach tests.**

Clearly, I don’t believe Māori will abandon the hard-won fruits of their renaissance for a socialist pragma which lumps them and their needs in with everyone else of a certain social class, which in the long term would erase the distinction between tangata whenua and tangata Tiriti. This distinction will fade with time, but that time is not yet come. For this reason I believe the strategy is folly at a practical level. Add to which, the appeal to more conservative social values was always going to be strong among Māori and Pasifika voters, so the left and right hands (as it were) of the socialist conservative resurgence seem unaware of what the other is doing: with the left hand, it beckons them closer, and with the right it pushes them away.

My main objection to the ‘blue collars, red necks’ strategy is not practical — although that would be a sufficient cause for opposing it. The main reason is because of principle, and this question turns on an assessment of the left in politics. Trotter and other old-school socialists (and presumably Pagani and Goff and the current leadership of the Labour party) believe that the left has been hijacked over the past generation by non-materialist concerns and has lost its way as a consequence. I believe that the wider social concern with non-material matters has saved socialism from its own dogma.

Largely discredited as an economic system and its legacy irretrievably tarnished by the catastrophic failure of practically every implementation, socialist-aligned parties on the left have been forced to diversify from a strict focus on what’s in the pockets of the proletariat to what’s in their heads — what they care about and who they are, their identity beyond being ‘the proletariat’. In doing so these movements have embraced liberalism, social equality movements, and environmentalism, and the resulting blend, termed ‘progressivism’ has become part of the political orthodoxy, such that the political right must now pay at least some mind to these considerations if it is to remain viable. This broadening, and the progressive movement’s redefinition of what is right by its general and gradual rejection of racism, sexism, sexual and religious discrimination, among others, has been hugely beneficial to society. For reasons of principle, it should not be discarded out of cynical political expedience.

Furthermore, maintenance of the social liberal programme has strategic, pragmatic value. It has enabled left political movements to broaden their support base and engage with groups often marginalised from politics, breaking the previously zero-sum rules. The modern Labour party has built its political church upon this rock of progressive inclusion, broadening its support base by forming strategic alliances with Rātana from the time of the First Labour Government and less formally with the Kīngitanga and other Māori groups, to which the party owes a great deal of its political success. The progressive programme has broadened to include other groups historically marginalised by the conservative establishment. For Labour to shun its progressive history and return to some idealised socialist pragma of old by burning a century of goodwill in order to make cheap electoral gains by emulating their political opponents is the same transgression many on the economic left have repeatedly levelled against the māori party, and with some justification: selling out one’s principles for the sake of political expedience is a betrayal, and betrayals do not go unpunished. In this case, the betrayal is against the young, who will rapidly overtake the old socialist guard as the party’s future; and Māori, who will rapidly overtake the old Pākehā majority in this country’s future. The socialists might applaud, but Labour represents more than just the socialists, and it must continue to do so if it is to remain relevant.

So, for my analysis, the ‘blue collars, red necks’ strategy fails at the tactical level, because it asks Māori to choose their economic identity over their cultural identity; it fails at the level of principle, because it represents a resort to regressive politics, a movement away from what is ‘right’ to what is expedient; and it fails at the level of strategy, because by turning its back on progressivism the party publicly abandons its constituents, and particularly those who represent the future of NZ’s politics, who have grown up with the Labour party as a progressive movement. It is triply flawed, and the only silver lining from the whole sorry affair is that (again, if Goff and Pagani hold their nerve) we will see the dogmatic adherence to class tested and, hopefully once and for all, bested.

L

* Of course, Goff claims it is no such thing. But Trotter sees that it is and is thrilled, and John Pagani’s endorsement of Trotter’s analysis reveals rather more about the strategic direction than a politician’s public assurance.

** I see this as an expression of how normalised Māori-ness is among young people, and as much as can be said from the actions of nine-year-olds, an indicator of NZ’s political future.

The problem with spurious comparisons.

datePosted on 19:56, December 2nd, 2009 by Pablo

Reading the 2025 Taskforce recommendations as another exercise in comparative fantasising, I got to wondering yet again about why the NZ obsession with Australia, and why the constant comparisons with it. Part of my wonderment stems from the fact that those such as myself who have been trained in comparative political methodology simply do not see a valid basis for a comparison between OZ and NZ other than a shared language and ties to the UK. But Nigeria, Jamaica, Hong Kong and India can also claim those two similarities and no one thinks to compare them with OZ or NZ–or even with each other. So what is it with NZ’s constant penis envy about the continent to its West?

OZ is a mineral rich continent with 5 times the population size and well over ten times the landmass of NZ. It was settled by convicts who led generations of colonialists on a murderous campaign of indigenous cultural extermination. It has an atrocious record on race relations and endemic corruption in government, unions and business. It has a substantial manufacturing  base that now outweighs primary good experts as the mainstay of the economy. It is far more diverse in its post WW2 immigration (which has contributed to some of its race problems), far more conservative politics, an aggressive foreign security policy, allows nuclear weapons to be stored on its soil, and near catastrophic environmental problems caused by draught, over-mining, over-grazing and the cultivation of water-intensive crops. Australians disproportionately excel in a range of sports from swimming to surfing to soccer, with a little cricket, rugby and league thrown in for good measure. It is a federal republic with a bicameral national legislature. It is an aspiring middle power that seeks to be the regional hegemon serving as the US deputy sheriff in the SW Pacific. It has kept a a large welfare infrastructure intact as a cushion against the dislocations of market-oriented macroeconomic reform. It has Russell Crowe and AC/DC.

NZ is an archipelago nation more than 800 kilometers from its nearest neighbor. It has abundant water, forest and pasture. It was settled by preachers and sailors, some of whom entered into the indigenous food chain before a negotiated settlement was reached with the original inhabitants. Its climate is temperate and its politics, until recently, largely tolerant. It is a unitary government with a single legislative chamber. It has a fairly good history of race relations (comparatively, if not absolutely), much less urbanization as a percentage of the total demographic, and its export-oriented economy continues to be rooted in primary good production. It has less first generation immigrants as a percentage of the population, an “independent” foreign policy, the non-nuclear posture and an admirable record of involvement in UN arms control and peacekeeping efforts. NZ has the All Blacks, the Silver Ferns, the All Whites, the Black Caps, the Black Socks, the Tall Blacks, the Black Ferns, Black Sticks and for all I know Blackbeard as well (oh, and more than a few exceptional triathletes and endurance racers). More people per capita in NZ have university degrees than their Ozzie counterparts. It has been a laboratory rat for neoliberal experimentation since the mid 1980s under a variety of governments. It had Russell Crowe and Crowded House.

The question is, given these obvious and glaring differences, why do NZ politicians, policy-makers and the public alike fixate on OZ? To be honest, the better contemporary comparisons for NZ are countries with similar population sizes, land masses and location in the global chain of production rather than colonial ties, primary language or past ethno-religious makeup. By that contemporary criteria, Uruguay, Costa Rica and other Central American republics, small European states like Belgium, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia and the Northern Tier states (among others), and even Sub-Saharan African countries like Botswana, could all serve as a better basis for comparison than OZ (and all of those mentioned are capitalist democracies). And, using that criteria, it is possible than NZ would have a better feeling about itself rather than the perennial sense of inferiority when it comes to Australia.

One way to compare NZ and OZ is to use one of the comparative  methods I alluded to earlier. A “most similar” method seeks to isolate independent variables that are similar, then explain differences in dependent variables by highlighting the causal implications of intervening variables. Conversely, “most different” comparisons select independent variables based on differences, then proceed down the chain of causality to explain similarities in the dependent variables. It would seem that when it comes to OZ, a most different criteria is the better choice, although it is clear that the most similar comparisons based on language and Anglo-Saxon colonial legacies have been the historical norm.

Less it not be obvious I am being a bit facetious/tongue-in-cheek here, mostly in an effort to stir some argument about why Kiwis continue the non-sensical habit of comparing themselves as a society and nation to a far different place that just happens to lie 2000 kilometers to the West. Why not just concentrate on getting the most out of THIS society given its very unique national attributes? Why attempt to emulate the policies of larger nations that do not share those attributes or the specific constraints of a small, heterogeneous, trade-dependent island democracy? After all, most experts agree that it is not the size of the brush that matters, but the talent of the artist wielding it. On that count, as well as the stupidity of the 2025 Taskforce comparisons with Australia, Don Brash is no Van Gogh, and NZ has no need to measure itself against Australia now or in 15 years. What it does need, and all too often does not get, is talent in government. And that is not a matter of size.

In the first few days of July I began writing a post about the report of the Foreshore and Seabed Review Panel. Due to absurd busi-ness* I never got it finished. Since the government has this week responded to the review panel’s findings, two months after it undertook to do so, by kicking the issue to touch, I figure now is as good a time as any to examine the issue again.

First, let me begin by clarifying my position on the issue and the government’s handling of it. I have been vocal in my support of the māori party’s willingness to work with National in government, and their willingness to accept a range of lesser policy concessions in service of the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act — not so much on the basis that it (the repeal) will necessarily result in a greater quantum of economic or social benefit than those other concessions might have, but on the basis that the decision is for Māori to make. The māori party, (it is often repeated, mostly by disgruntled Labour supporters) does not represent all Māori, and this is true — but inasmuch as it has kaupapa Māori foundations, it has a stronger philosophical claim to representat those māori who share that kaupapa basis than any other party in parliament; and on this issue in particular, a stronger mandate than the Labour party.

Indigenism

The striking thing about the review, and perhaps the reason for the tardy and incomplete response from the government, is that it is grounded in indigenist principles. It’s not the only indigenist policy document the government has kicked to touch in recent months: the NZGB recommendation that the spelling of Wanganui be corrected to Whanganui is another such thing. Indigenism, here used, is not so much ethnic nationalism (as it is usually given to mean) as a non-eurocentric philosophical basis; one which does not presuppose a Pākehā worldview or rules of engagement — a necessary quality in that sort of political action, but not in itself a sufficient quality. Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s book Decolonising Methodologies provides a clear explication of the practice of indigenist and indigenising research in the Aotearoa-New Zealand context.

The indigenist position derives largely from the choice of panellists (two of whom are Māori scholars) and from the scope of the inquiry, which explicitly gave the panel a mandate to assess the extent to which the FSA “effectively recognises and provides for customary or aboriginal title and public interests” in the foreshore and seabed. This accepted the facts of NZ’s constitutional and legal history and jurisprudence from the Treaty of Waitangi, the Native Land Court and more recently the Māori Land Court, the Waitangi Tribunal, and the Court of Appeal in the Ngāti Apa case: that there are customary rights; they are not a legal fiction or a ‘simple nullity’ as Prendergast had it. These were facts which Labour, claiming to be the natural party of Māori representation, needed a court to tell them — and they reached for the nuclear option of legislation when the court did so. This change is important because it lays the tracks for future legislative and legal events: because the review was conducted from an indigenist basis, the resultant action must necessarily take on an indigenist hue. This was the complaint levelled by all of the usual suspects when the panel was named — as if the job of assessing a dispute over historical rights and legal process could shomehow be neutrally conducted by those whose institutions were responsible for its ongoing rancour.

More than ‘One Nation’

The indigenist perspective embedded in the review process and its frame has resulted in the forthright rejection of “all New Zealanders” rhetoric and the homogenisation which that discourse implies. Diversity exists; different groups have different rights in custom and culture and in law; that reality needs to be carefully managed, not ignored or subsumed by a system which says “we all have the rights I think we should have, and not those which you value”. This is the central foundation on whcih the report and its recommendations stands. In the words of the panel:

the very real problem that arises from the populist notion of “one people” under one law is quite simply that it does not recognise – indeed denies – the fact of the ethnic, cultural and social diversity of our population, which we would argue considerably enriches rather than divides our society. […] We are acutely aware that the notion of “one people” is, in the main, rejected by Māori. Māori say that we are simply two peoples comprising one nation. They see the notion of “one people” emboldened within a western paradigm that is constructed upon those premises and values which underpin the majority culture, the effect of which is to deny their existence. Māori collective property rights have rarely been treated in law in the same way as have non-Māori property rights.

Indeed they haven’t. And there are different conceptions of property rights issues in play here — rights of heredity and customary usage. Submitter Edward Ellison on behalf of Te Rūnanga o Otakau:

What we’re talking about is the mana or rangatiratanga rather than what we might term title or ownership as in the narrow European concept. It just doesn’t do it justice and it can be easily turned against us.

It’s the same issue which resulted in widespread alienation of land in the half-century following the Treaty’s signature: Western legal paradigms of ownership didn’t recognise collective landholdings, so they assumed that lands were the possessions of a given rangatira (or just someone who claimed to be rangatira) to dispose of. The panel, again:

More importantly, throughout this country’s history Māori advocacy and claims have not been made on the basis of ethnicity but of inherited rights – just as non-Māori have made claims and had them met on the basis of inherited rights. Indeed, property and customary rights are not argued on the basis that people are ethnically Māori, but because they have historically inherited rights to specific areas and resources – in the same way as a non-Māori landowner is able to pass down his or her land and associated resources to their children, and so forth.”

This illustrates a point of framing which has shot clear through the discourse around the issue: most discussion is about entitlement or claims under the Treaty of Waitangi, underlined by the fact that tangata whenua have had to go cap-in-hand to the Crown and its authorities. This isn’t a matter of claims or entitlements: it’s about securing rights to resource access and exploitation which never lapsed. The ‘troughing modies’ argument simply ignores the fact that parts of the coast owned by private concerns can and frequently are passed undisturbed down through successive generations of landowners. Just because the resources in question have been handed down collectively in accordance with tikanga, and just because the holders of rights to those resources refuse to accept a Western paradigm of property rights, the claim should be no less valid. This is not to say, however, that the matter is strictly one of property rights. Fundamentally it’s a matter of adherence to the Treaty, which guaranteed tangata whenua the right to their cultural practices (part of ‘tāonga katoa’ from Article 2) which permit them to consider the issue in ways not limited to a strict property-rights interpretation imposed from without.

The excerpts above demonstrate a strong critique of the ‘one nation’ rhetoric, and the falsity of that discourse, in which a culture which is dominant both in terms of numbers and of power draws artificial and appropriative distinctions between transfer of rights and property which are deemed legitimate and those which are deemed illegitimate. This is the discourse which gave rise to Iwi/Kiwi and to the Foreshore and Seabed Act; they are cut from the same cloth. It is the discourse, and the self-serving assimilationism it represents against which the critique is levelled; not against the Pākehā establishment except inasmuch as the two are indistinguishable. Those Pākehā taking umbrage at the critique should, therefore, examine their own role in and allegiance to that discourse and the system which bred it; those who reject it and what it stands for have no cause for alarm from the review process.

Divisions within

But what’s curious is that indigenism, and indigeneity, were central to the review, and to the issue and its future solutions, but ethnicity was not itself a determinant of position among submitters to the review. The panel found that

It was not possible to categorise the submissions by ethnicity in a reliable manner. While provision was made for submitters to specify their ethnicity, this option was not always used, or people elected more than one ethnicity. In any case, ethnicity is not necessarily determinative of viewpoint; some Māori submitters tended towards what might be termed a “Pākehā world view”.

The Foreshore and Seabed dispute is not just a dispute between Māori and Pākehā, as Don Brash and Michael Laws and Chris Trotter would have you believe: the divisions are as much within Pākehā society and Māori society as between them. A ‘clash of civilisations’ paradigm here obscures what’s really happening, it does not illuminate it.

I’ll look more closely at this point, and its cultural and constitutional ramifications, in a future post (when I get time). To be continued.

L

* The same busi-ness which has rendered my posts rare and largely prevented me from participating in the frequently-excellent discussions which have emerged in response to them. Please read my absence as an interested ‘points noted’, and please don’t let my scarceness dissuade you from continuing as you have been.

The False Promise of Asian Values.

datePosted on 14:28, October 19th, 2009 by Pablo

The country that I live in is a major exponent of the so-called “Asian Values” school. This school of thought argues that Western notions of liberal democracy are not applicable to Asia because Asian values are different than those of the Anglo-Saxon world and therefore attempts to impose Western-stye democracy are ill-suited to local conditions and, what is worse, a form of cultural imperialism.

So what do Asians value? According to the official line, they value the primacy of collective rights over those of the individual, order above freedom, material security over political voice, and economic efficiency over egalitarianism. The private sphere is reified while the public sphere is circumscribed. Family and community take precedence over the individual or narrow social group interests. These are held to derive from traditional “Confucian” values. Hence civil society is not a spontaneous expression of variegated social interests but a state-structured (and state-supportive) amalgam of overlapped sectorial agents in which “volunteerism” is imposed as a social obligation rather than freely given. Conformity is enforced as the means by which to achieve upward mobility, and although meritocracy is given rhetorical championing by the state, in practice it is often subordinated to the requirements of playing along, following orders and not challenging the status quo as given. Needless to say, this reverses most of the priorities of Western liberalism.

Asian values exponents will argue that the proof of the superiority of their system is in the pudding: individually and collectively Asia is a region of rising economic powers, with their growth only checked by foolhardy attempts to impose western-style democracy on immature populations not yet ready to accept the fact that with expanded political rights come an equal amount of social and political responsibilities. They point out the “chaos” of democratic society in the West and where democracy has been attempted in Asia, as opposed to the order found in the “traditional” East. They see social hierarchies as natural and exploitation as inevitable, with attempts to ameliorate this “natural” order of things contributing to social unrest and instability. The latter are considered to be primordial dangers to “good” society, and to be avoided or suppressed at all costs. 

What I find interesting about these claims is that they mirror claims made about Latin American societies in the 1950s through the 1980s–that they operated under a different (Catholic) social code that was authoritarian, patriarchal, racially and economically stratified, state-centric, community- and family-oriented, and was therefore more naturally amenable to authoritarian forms of rule. And yet Latin America has by and large democratised with no ill-effect other than to give space to populist demagogues along with sincere politicians (as happens virtually anywhere political competition is opened up to mass appeal). But in terms of social stability, economic growth, etc., Latin America has not been discernibly hurt (or improved) by the move towards social and political freedom. It has simply evolved in a more open direction.

So what to make of the Asian values argument? Well, living in the epicenter of its practical implementation it would appear that “Asian Values” are no more and no less than the philosophical justification for developmental authoritarianism. These values are no more natural in the East than they are anywhere else–all societies put value on family, kinship, order, efficiency and stability. It is in the imposed and contrived ways in which “Asian Values” are reproduced–from the top-down, through the State and its agents, rather than spontaneously welling up from the cultural grassroots of society at large–that we see its real purpose. The Asian values argument is in reality just a cover for the maintenance of an authoritarian status quo that otherwise would be susceptible to challenge from those that it purports to represent.

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