Archive for ‘An inclusive society’ Category

The universal law of genetic decline.

datePosted on 15:18, August 29th, 2009 by Pablo

Upon hearing the news that Ted Kennedy’s death has meant the “end of the dynasty” for the US equivalent of political royalty, I got to musing on why the “dynasty” is done. There are dozens of Kennedy children and grandchildren running about, and a few–Teddy Jr. and Joseph (son of Robert) in the House, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend as lieutenant govenor of Maryland earlier this decade–have served in elected office. Thus there is enough biological material to keep the dynasty going. Why then, is it not?

The answer may be in the universal tendency of genetic decline in influential families. The logic goes like this: the first generation of any modern dynasty is characterised by “lift-from-the-bootstraps” ambition, entrepeneurship, innovative thinking, cunning, risk-taking, and flat out smarts. Through ruthlessness and hard work the progenitor of the dynasty emerges out of poverty and proceeds to achieve money, power, influence–or any combination thereof. As s/he ascends (it usually is a he), the first generation achiever moves out of his/her lower class station and begins to mingle with the hoi paloi. Eventually, as s/he reaches upper class status they  breed with members of the established aristrocracy who are long on manners and etiquette and  short on real achievement or talent. There begins the slide.

The first generation of children produced by this mix tend to have the progenitor’s determination and drive, as they hear first hand about the suffering and work it took to get them the silver spoon. They tend to reproduce the progenitor’s ambitions in politics, finance, enterprise or military affairs. They share the progenitor’s flaws but better reproduce his/her talents, which when coupled with the material advantages afforded to them, reinforce their positions as part of the elite. They proceed to breed with other members of the elite–some old school, some hereditary, some new blood, and go on to produce the third generation of aristocrats.

That is where the dynastic decline takes on momentum. 50 or so years removed from the hardships of the progenitor, his/her grandchildren live in the rarified air of the elites. They go to elite schools, they have maids and chauffeurs, they play with the most expensive toys, live in opulent houses, summer in beautiful vacation spots, jet around the world for pleasure, go to the best parties, sleep with the most handsome or beautiful people, and would not know a hard day’s work if it smacked them in the face (even though they are appointed to corporate boards and trusts). Most importantly, they can buy themselves out of trouble, and because they can, they do. Coupled with the lack of drive derived from their comfortable status, and with their ambition gene diluted by inter-marriage with members of established elites, this is the generation of decline.

The story of the Kennedy’s is well-known: bootlegger father with a penchant for the ladies and fascist inclinations. A generation of sons that included war heros (at least as far as the story goes), an assassinated president, an assassinated presidential front-runner and Senator, and Ted. Lest it be forgotten, it included Eunice Kennedy, the founder of the Special Olympics, who arguably may have influenced as many lives as did her brothers.  Then came the grandkids—Maria Shriver, Robert Jr. Joseph, Kathleen, Teddy Jr and a a host of others. It is those others that matter here because they have done virtually nothing to advance the fortunes of the family or the community. In fact, many of that generation, and their fourth generation children, are most known for their celebrity antics and criminal transgressions and ability to escape the type of justice usually meted out to the less fortunate.

The Kennedy’s are not alone. Think of the Hilton dynasty. Think of the Rockefellers, Gettys or Carnegies. Think of Saddam Hussein’s sons. Think of Kim jung-il and his off-spring. Or European and Arab royalty. Everywhere one looks, regardless of culture or creed, the universal law of genetic decline is hard at work turning the off-spring of the mighty into social parasites and elite bludgers. Some will argue that it is not a genetic condition but the way in which they are socialised that brings about the decline. That is probably true, and since I am not a geneticist I cannot argue against the idea that it is nurture, rather than nature that produces the effect. But what I can say is that I see this process as a good thing.

The reason I believe that the universal law of genetic decline is a good thing is that it puts a natural shelf-life on any modern dynasty. Dynasties are to social life what monopolies are to capitalism: they stifle creativity, ambition and innovation, to say nothing of egalitarianism and equal treatment. Anything that breaks up these hierarchies is thus a public good, as it forces renovation, if not rejuvenation of elites  by circulating new blood into them, blood that often times comes from lower rungs on the social totem pole.

So let us mark the end of the Kennedy era by honoring the things that Teddy and his family have contributed to US political life, and be thankful that their influence has apparently come to and end. Now the question remains, what about the status of the NZ elite? Or, more specifically on one issue: Old money has found its way into the National party presidency, whereas it is new money that leads its parliamentary wing and government. Is that sign of things on the upswing or things in decline for the blue side of the political spectrum?

Preventing the success that we celebrate

datePosted on 13:41, August 25th, 2009 by Anita

On the 1st of April this year I got a nice cheery tax cut because, according to our National ACT government, people like me on the top tax bracket are the hardest working and most deserving. As a private sector worker earning a good wage, paying my mortgage with some to spare, and barely noticing the recession I suspect they’d say I was exactly what success looks like to them.

Oddly, though, under the current policies of this government I’d probably still be on the sickness benefit able to work only 5-10 hours in a good week.

Not so long ago, due to health and crime circumstances beyond my control, that’s exactly where I was. Getting me back on my, “successful”, feet was a combined effort of systems, organisations and people; a genuine welfare system. I was fortunate to receive good welfare support from the benefit system, counselling through ACC’s sensitive claims, awesome care from the public health system, support from a state sector with a commitment to equity and workplace reintegration for people with chronic illness and disability, an open accessible education system, and a first class public transport system. Not to mention the variety of public servants in a wide range of organisations with the time and mandate to help me through.

How many of those systems will survive the current policies? How many face cuts that make the services useless or impractical? How many of those good people have been made redundant by the state sector cuts? Or overloaded by work from their departed colleagues? Or operating under new “guidelines”?

National and ACT may laud people like me who succeed in their eyes, but they’re taking away the small pieces of  support that make our success possible.

So the next time you see the politics of envy rhetoric, think of me: given a tax cut I didn’t need and wishing that every cent had been put into the services that we all rely on when things go wrong.

Resentful reactionary ethnocentric cultural protectionism

datePosted on 18:55, August 17th, 2009 by Lew

Buy Robyn Kippenberger an atlas, and a history of New Zealand. The chief executive of the RNZSPCA was on The Panel (audio; starts at about 06:15) this afternoon talking about the killing and eating of dogs, as opposed to other critters. Quoth Ms Kippenberger:

I think it’s generally agreed that we have companion animals in European countries, and we don’t eat them. […] I guess that New Zealand is a country that is largely European, and Māori, and none of us eat our dogs. And we’re also … and that’s the main culture in this country. […] I mean, if you want to eat dog, then go to Viet Nam, or go to China, or indeed, maybe go to Tonga.

In the immortal words of that noted killer and eater of critters, Barry Crump: hang on a minute mate. I have a few questions for Ms Kippenberger. In no particular order:

  • Who’s this ‘we’ you’re presuming to speak for, again, and who gave you the right to speak for them?
  • Since when was New Zealand a ‘European’ country? It’s in the South Pacific; the same part of the world as Tonga, incidentally.
  • Given that Māori brought dogs with them to Aotearoa for the express purpose of eating them, how exactly is it culturally offensive for Māori?
  • Upon what basis do you define ‘New Zealander’ as excluding Chinese, Viet Namese and Tongan people?
  • Why do you presume to go on the radio and talk about matters on which you are clearly not informed (viz: geography, Māori history, cultural identity and multiculturalism)?

She goes on:

What we’re saying is, it’s culturally insensitive to do it here. Other cultures tell us what is culturally insensitive to do in their countries. I don’t think that it’s anything other than giving people the heads-up that if they live in this country, actually, we don’t like what they’re doing if they do that.

The underlying discourse here is something along the lines of:

The whole world is PC and everyone gets to have their meddling way, telling us what we can and can’t do, so us whitebread suburban honkey hand-wringers are going to take this chance to draw a line in the sand, to the north of Asians and Islanders, and to the south of Māori (but not Māori as they actually are; but only as we feel like we are supposed to think of them, as rather like us, only brown).

(My words, not hers).

Yes, many New Zealanders object to the killing and eating of pets, particularly dogs. But liberal, multicultural society is quite capable of handling these differences internally. The SPCA is not an agency of cultural arbitration; as Ms Kippenberger has so aptly demonstrated, it is not equipped to be such an agency. Even the CEO doesn’t have the skills or inclination to come up with any better argument than assimilative monoculturalism, and can’t even get the most basic facts and logic of that feeble and reactionary argument right. Its mandate should be limited to those things it knows about – advocating against cruelty to animals while they’re alive, for example. There’s no argument here that the animal was treated cruelly, so the SPCA has no business being involved.

Animal rights and welfare activists should be likewise angered by this. Ms Kippenberger, who ought to be a champion of your cause, has demonstrated that it is led by fools whose attitude to cultural difference is ‘go back to the Islands’.

L

Voodoo justice–compassion or condescension?

datePosted on 14:13, August 17th, 2009 by Pablo

The news that five Maori family members were given community sentences and spared jail terms after being found guilty of the manslaughter of their niece, who they believed to be possessed by demons, during a prolonged exorcism ritual that involved repeated eye scratching and waterboarding (a term now unfortunately part of the popular lexicon) of the victim (who it turns out was mentally ill rather than possessed), has caused a predictable stir in judicial and political circles. Pundits on the right lambaste the apparent double standard applied to Maori in this instance, where gross ignorance, superstition and stupidity cloaked in the garb of “traditional beliefs” is given a cultural pass when it comes to adjudicating personal and collective responsibility for the lethal consequences of said beliefs. The argument goes that any Pakeha exorcism resulting in death would have seen those responsible incarcerated, and that ignorance is no excuse is the eyes of the law. There is truth to this view, as there have been prior instances of bible-bashers (here meant literally) being jailed for abuses against individuals suspected of possession or other religious transgressions. There is also the issue of relative justice, in the sense that people involved in assisted suicide or drugs offenses have received jail terms rather than community service (ie. their crimes were less heinous  than this one). From this vantage point, the light sentences handed down to the defendants on grounds that they did not realise the consequences of their actions and thought that they were doing good for the victim is an astonishing act of judicial double-standards rooted in over weaning political correctness. The bottom line, in this view, is that is is condescending, patronising and just plain wrong to let Maori off lightly because they may have “traditional” beliefs the lead them to commit acts that others could not get away with. After all, “traditional beliefs” are not always correct, civilised or appropriate, because if they were then NZ society and the law would approve of foot-binding, genital mutilation and ritualistic whippings as acceptable practice for those who ascribe to them.

On the other hand, some progressive pundits and cultural relativists see in the decision a wise act of compassion by a judge who believed that the family had suffered enough with the inadvertent death of Janet Moses at their own hands. In this view it serves no purpose to punish them with jail terms because they are already acutely aware of the mistake and have a life long punishment to serve as a result of it. They and society would be better served by having them do community service and learn more about their own cultural heritage so as to not distort traditional beliefs regarding makuto and its treatment.

From my perspective, the main trouble is that in democracies the law should universally apply, and that application should apply universally in sentencing. If ignorance of the law is not an excuse for violating traffic regulations, then surely it is no excuse for manslaughter. Yet in heterogeneous societies comprised of an assortment of pre-modern, modern and post-modern beliefs espoused by indigenous, colonial and post-colonial groups, it may be impossible to apply the “justice for all” standard in ways that do, in fact, ensure so. I am thus left with mixed feelings about the verdict and sentence. On the one hand, the actions of these individuals are inexcusable; on the other hand, they were acting in good faith when they committed them. What then is a fair sentence in this case?  Are some groups entitled (that word again!) to different standards of justice based upon their belief systems? For the moment I am left with the uneasy feeling that ignorance may not be bliss, but for some it makes for a better defense.

Dogs are food too

datePosted on 13:58, August 16th, 2009 by Lew

What are the SPCA doing raiding a guy’s cook-out because dog is on the menu? This was not an issue of cruelty; the dog was apparently killed in a ‘humane’ way,* and there’s no law against such killing; it’s really just the imposition of cultural norms about what sorts of animals are food and which aren’t.

I’ve eaten dog in three countries, as well as some other unusual and nasty things. I wouldn’t make a habit of it, but I know people who would. For a year I lived about half a kilometre from a dog farm; a place where dogs were kept before being slaughtered. It was pretty foul, especially when the wind changed, but the difference from any other industrial slaughterhouse was really only one of degree. Meat, as they say, is murder. People are permitted to kill pigs, chickens, cattle, rabbits, ducks, fish, goats, deer and fuzzy little lambs; dogs should be no different, and the SPCA has no business in arbitrating what ought to be a private matter, unless it’s their policy to come knocking any time anyone kills anything. But they have no right to do so. Imagine the drama if they started throwing their weight around at a Pākehā deerstalker’s cook-out, rather than that of a Tongan cultural outsider.

L

* There’s a fair argument as to whether this is a meaningful term, which I’ll elide for the purposes of this post.

Suppressing resident participation

datePosted on 11:20, August 15th, 2009 by Anita

Auckland

The National-Act government are going against the Royal Commission’s recommendations in an attempt to weaken resident participation, consultation and influence.

Wellington

The National-aligned mayor, Kerry Prendergast, and centre-right Council are trying to remove the public’s right to be consulted on buildings on our beautiful public waterfront.

Christchurch

Labour MP, Clayton Cosgrove, is trying to remove residents’ right to be heard using the Resource Management Act in an attempt to give the airport carte blanche to create as much noise whenever and however they like.

Blog Link: On conceptualising democracy in Aotearoa.

datePosted on 14:04, August 11th, 2009 by Pablo

For those who may be interested, I have updated, expanded and integrated the deconstructing democracy posts into a single essay that is this month’s “A Word from Afar” column over at Scoop.

Thanks to John Ward Knox for prompting me to turn the “Deconstructing Democracy” series into one read.

DPF pulls pin, leaves town

datePosted on 11:10, August 10th, 2009 by Lew

… and the resulting explosion is nothing short of spectacular.

Tara Te Heke is one of David’s four guest posters holding the reins while he’s on holiday. She is a single mum on the DPB who had three kids with a violent partner who left her in the lurch. Her story illuminates one of the problems with the bootstraps bootstraps bootstraps ideology commonly espoused on David’s side of the fence: not everyone can be on the top of the pile. Achieving the status Paula Bennett has may be something to strive toward, but those who fail to achieve such status aren’t necessarily failures – after all, there are only a few hundred such jobs in the country. Holding Paula up as an example is one thing; it’s quite another to say ‘Paula did it – there’s no reason you can’t too’. It just isn’t so. Markets are stratified by nature: there are some to whom the whole market is open; many more who may only access the lower reaches.

Perhaps it’s Tara’s awareness of the KBR culture, her status as an outsider to it, and her ironic adoption of the its lexicon (‘rorting the taxpayer’ to describe her drawing the DPB, etc) which has stimulated responses from the laudatory to the self-congratulatory, to the defensive, the typically heartless to the genuinely compassionate and understanding, and even questioning whether she’s a Hone Carter-esque ringer. It’s a rare beast, the second thread, and worth reading in its crazy two-hundred-plus-comment entirety.

Update: But wait, there’s more! Watch, as (when they don’t suit your argument) stereotypes are declared, well, stereotypical. Or just plain made up.

L

Contrasting examples of cultural difference

datePosted on 21:34, August 4th, 2009 by Lew

Two very different perceptions of the way cultural difference operates. From Tauhei Notts, commenting on Kiwiblog’s thread about the guilty verdict returned against Taito Phillip Field:

I believe that the jury was not culturally sensitive. Many people in Foreign affairs who dosh out us taxpayers’ funds to Polynesian nations are aware that what Field did was par for the course. Indeed, Field was incredulous at the fact that charges were even laid against him. He could not, and would not, see that what he had done was wrong. This is because what he did had been done for decades by Polynesian leaders. Field is the first one to be found guilty of what most New Zealanders consider to be awful behaviour, but what Polynesian people consider okay. The natives of the South Pacific have always had a different slant on morality and I think it is our job to encourage them to join the 21st century world.

And from Raymond Huo, talking about the case of Danny Cancian, who is in prison for killing a Chinese:

With regard to business, Westerners are generally transaction-orientated. They walk in the door, figure out the deal, sign the contract and get out. Chinese, on the other hand, are relationship orientated. The Chinese concept of friendship, or guanxi, is vital. In a highly centralised state, the use of guanxi is sometimes the only way to get things done.
The core of guanxi is doing business through value-laden relationships. To some extent, guanxi is the counter-part of a commercial legal system. Don’t get me wrong – Asian people do respect contracts. They are ethical. The only difference is that they do business differently. Mostly, obligations come from relationships, not only pieces of paper.

I’ve spent no time in the Pacific islands, but plenty of time living in East Asia, where obligations attach to relationships developed in a more or less organic fashion between individuals, their roles and networks, and the censure of failing to fulfill obligations is rendered by those individuals, roles and networks rather than being imposed by external arbitration. I played the kibun game (I think) very well in Korea for three years, until the very last hurdle – severance pay in our final job. On our second-to-last day in the country, several days after it was due to be paid up, I lost my nerve and called my boss (who’d been good to us and generally trustworthy) and insisted that he pay us immediately. He did. An hour later he cancelled the meal which had been called in our honour for that night (and at which he was planning to present us with the money, all in good time).

Transculturalism is complicated.

L

I voted Yes today

datePosted on 14:16, August 3rd, 2009 by Anita

It is a sunny Wellington spring day; I walked past crocuses and the beginning of daffodils to get my ballot paper, and past trees starting to show their spring growth to post it.

I voted yes because I believe smacking children is wrong.

I voted yes because I want to reaffirm that the Christian right do not speak for me. Many many (many) Christians in New Zealand believe, as I do, that smacking is wrong.

I voted yes because countless people gained the signatures of 300,000 voters to give me the opportunity to say out loud what I believe.

I voted yes because I want to live in a country where children are hugged, held, comforted, and raised to be non-violent adults.

I voted yes because I love.

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