Archive for ‘An inclusive society’ Category
… and often I don’t understand it.
Pretty much every time I see the term ‘Social Engineering’ used I think the writer has got it backwards.
Mark Krikorian writes in a short post at NRO’s corner blog:
Leaving aside the merits of the US immigration debate and other aspects of Krikorian’s post*, I find the use of ‘social engineering’ here to be fascinating. I understand his point well enough, (and I’d rather not dwell on it), but what grabs me is that social engineering here can only mean the actions of his opponents, it could never be applied to his own policy. It’s a code of some sort, it no longer means just what the words say.
Obviously much of what governments do is social engineering of one sort or another. The criminal justice system is in place largely to deter and punish behaviours. Taxes are used to encourage some activities over others and so on. These sorts of things are never termed social engineering though. SE is almost always a bad thing. This much I can understand and be quite comfortable with. Whatever ‘social engineering’ is, it’s something that goes against freedom, and we are all liberals now pretty much, with the arguments being about how best to maximise (and define) liberty.
What I don’t understand is that whenever the term is actually used nowadays, it seems to be aimed at policies that remove some aspect of State control over the shape of society. In the example above, Krikorian seems to be saying that open borders would be an extreme example of social engineering. To me that is precisely wrong. A strict immigration policy, aimed at keeping a nations demographics in some sort of racial or cultural stasis would be a far better fit for the label ‘social engineering’. Given what the words mean.
If the US government was forcibly dragging non-white immigrants to the US in order to deliberately alter the demograhic mix, or refusing white applicants entry, then he’d have a point. That would meet the natural definition for SE. But they aren’t doing anything like that.
The same applies to arguments around gay marriage and state recognition of de-facto relationships. Surely when the state is recognising the relationships that people have, and not discriminating between them, then that is the opposite of what the words ‘social engineering’ actually mean.
And on the contrary, when the state did discriminate on those grounds and deliberately favoured some relationships over others, (and even made some relationships illegal), in order to foster a particular style of domestic arrangement that was felt to be most beneficial for society, then that is, quite precisely, ‘social engineering’.
So is all this just projection on the part of conservatives, or are they adding (or subtracting) some meaning to the term that I’m not seeing?
* I’ll just say that his links are interesting, as are the uses he puts them to.
I have received the following communique originated by NZ Association of Psychotherapists member Kyle MacDonald; an easy means for you to tell the Minister for ACC what you think about sexual abuse recovery rationing:
Grass Roots Political Action, a step by step recipe.
“The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.”
Update: There’s also a petition, for what that’s worth.
Grass Roots Political Action Part II – Gather Support.
“In a democracy dissent is an act of faith. Like medicine, the test of its
Dear friends, colleagues and supporters of counseling and therapy in
Many of you will now be aware of attempts by ACC to change the Sensitive
Now there is something you can do to help! Follow this link to an online
Please also circulate this petition as widely as you can to friends, family,
Thank you for your time,
One thing that is striking about the tone of contemporary public policy debates in NZ is the absence of intellectuals. Although various academics are trotted out by the media to give sound bites and opinion based on their supposed “expertise” in given subject areas, they otherwise do not loom large in the national conversation on issues of policy. Likewise, activists and partisans of various stripes make their views known on a number of fronts, but their contributions are notable more for their zeal than their intellectual weight. So, what happened to NZ’s public intellectuals, or perhaps better said, has there ever been a real tradition of public intellectuals in Aotearoa?
I ask this because as a relative newcomer to the country (arrived in 1997), I may have witnessed the passing from the public eye of the final generation of public intellectuals. People like Andrew Sharp, Bruce Jesson, Barry Gustafson (who is retired by active), Michael King–their likes are no longer seen in policy debates, and there does not appear to be another generation of intellectuals emerging to replace them. Moreover, due to my ignorance of NZ intellectual history, I remain unsure if theirs was the only generation of scholars who had an impact on public life, or if they are the final generation in a tradition that extends back to pre-colonial days.
To be sure, the likes of Jane Kelsey, Brian Easton (who, if from that previous generation is still alive and involved in contemporary debates), Gareth Morgan, Ranginui Walker, Sandra Coney, Ian Wedde, perhaps Chris Trotter (who is prolific if not consistent in his views) continue to agitate for their causes. Various bloggers have made their mark on public discourse, and Maori luminaries interject their insights into discussions of tangata whenua and tino rangatiratanga. But it appears that there is an anti-intellectual bias deeply ingrained in NZ society, one that has its origins in the much celebrated egalitarian ethos of the country, but which is now reinforced by the corporate media disposition to sell teenage pop fodder, “infotainment,” culturally vacuous “reality” shows and sports instead of providing even a minimum of in-depth news, analysis and debate. Although there are evening and weekend segments dedicated to public affairs on major media outlets and plenty of talkback options in which opinions are voiced, those that feature them are dominated by policy dilettantes or, worse yet, journalists, society celebrities or ex-politicians talking to each other (in a version of the Fox News syndrome of mutual self-promotion via staged interviews on personality-driven shows). There is even an academic version of this, in which individuals who are purported experts in “media studies” are brought out to pontificate on how media covers politics and social issues. No need to consult those that actual work in these subject areas–all that is required for public consumption is someone who looks at how the media covers how sociologists, economists and political scientists track issues of policy. That is enough to make definitive judgements on the matters of the day. Add to this the fact that many media guest talking heads are paid for their appearances, or if not, wish to keep their mugs on the society pages, and what passes for informed public scrutiny of policy cause and consequence is nothing more than a collection of glib retorts and one-liners. This is the media equivalent of comfort food.
The pandering syndrome has infected the political classes. Personal image and party “brand” is more important than substance. Market research drives approaches to policy. And nowhere is their an intellectual in sight to serve as critic and conscience of society. Instead, “opinionaters” from all parts of the political spectrum pass shallow retrospective judgement on matters of import, and in the measure that they do so they rapidly fade from the front lines of the degraded public debates. Small wonder that political debates often tend towards the banal and trivial.
I am therefore curious as to whether there has ever been a robust tradition of public intellectuals in NZ, and if so, why has it all but disappeared? The 2007 book Speaking Truth to Power (Auckland University Press) decried the dearth of public intellectuals, and the situation appears to have gotten worse since then (good reviews of the book can be found here: http://www.listener.co.nz/issue/3493/artsbooks/8641/that_thinking_feeling.html; and here: http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/feature-archive/163908/Smart-thinking-NZs-public-intellectuals).>>Sorry, I am having trouble placing the links in shorter format<<
The word “intellectual” itself has become a focus for ridicule and derision, and professions in which intellectual labour is the norm are denigrated as the province of losers who otherwise could not get a “real” job (hence the tired saw that “those that do, do, and those than don’t, teach”). This is odd because in other societies intellectual labour is valued intrinsically, and in NZ there has been at least rhetorical championing of the move towards a higher level of public discourse. What happened to the “knowledge economy” and the effort to turn NZ into a value-added, innovation-based manufacturing platform? Is there no role for public intellectuals in that project, to say nothing of more lofty efforts to argue and impart a normative as well as positive theoretical framework for the ongoing betterment of Kiwi society? Are intellectuals indeed just pointy-headed bludgers ruminating about how many angels can fit on the end of a pin from the obscurity of their ivory towers and smoke-filled staff rooms? Or is there something amiss in the larger society that denies them a public role?
I shall leave the answers to you.
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?
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.
Posted 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:
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:
She goes on:
The underlying discourse here is something along the lines of:
(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’.
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.
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.
* There’s a fair argument as to whether this is a meaningful term, which I’ll elide for the purposes of this post.
The National-Act government are going against the Royal Commission’s recommendations in an attempt to weaken resident participation, consultation and influence.
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.
Posted 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.