Archive for ‘identity’ Category

‘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.

Legal Utu in a Colonial Court?

datePosted on 21:30, November 6th, 2009 by Pablo

A little over two years ago the so-called ” anti-terrorism” raids were carried out by the Police against activists in Ruatoki, Wellington and Auckland. The media frenzy that immediately followed focused on reports of “paramilitary” training camps, where, according to Helen Clark, “napalm” bombs were being made, weapons training was ongoing and plots were being hatched against a  variety of political figures, among them George W. Bush. Police affidavits were leaked to the press that detailed the “evidence” collected by covert means, and profiles of the more flamboyant of the defendants were splashed over the tabloids, radio and television. Almost immediately, multiple charges were laid under the Firearms Act 1983, but a few weeks after the raid the Solicitor General decided against laying charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act (TSA) because he deemed the TSA to be “unworkable.” This was a blow to the government’s case because much of the surveillance done in the build-up to the raids was authorised under provisions of the TSA. Even so, the government pressed ahead and in the months that followed arrested 3 more people and (a year after the raids) charged five of the original defendants with the additional count of  “participation in a criminal gang” (Tame Iti, Rangi Kemara, Tuhoe Lambert, Emily Bailey and Urs Signer). What all of the defendants have in common is that they are well-known and often outspoken critics of the NZ state, the US and capitalism in general. Beyond that they are a mixture of anarchist, environmental and indigenous sovereignty advocates (and at least one unhinged individual) united by their common disdain of the status quo. For background on the events and immediate response to the raids, see the trilogy I wrote for Scoop in the weeks that followed: here, here, and here.

With no terrorism angle to report on, the media lost interest and the story died. But what has become of the Urewera 18? (2 of the arrested have been discharged without conviction or had charges dismissed). Here I shall provide a brief update and make note of some ironies.

The Urewera 18 are represented by 14 barristers and numerous solicitors, with Rodney Harrison QC (of Zaoui case fame) recognised as lead counsel and Annette Sykes given special status by the Court with respect to the tikanga of Tuhoe and implied license. Proceedings have dragged on for more than two years, and like the Zaoui case, it is likely that they will continue for at least another year (reports are that the first available trial date is in 2011). Given the numbers of defendants and legal counsel involved, this means that the taxpayer bill for the prosecution of the case will dwarf the NZ$2 million spent in the futile attempt to refuse Ahmed Zauoi political refuge. The cost for the defendants, emotional as well as material, is similarly high.

As for the substance of the case against the Urewera 18, let us begin with the charges. Other than the criminal gang accusation and a common charge of possession of restricted weapons (presumably related to incendiary devices), all else fall under the Firearms Act of 1983. After some legal wrangling, the charges have been bundled together as ‘representative’ charges so as to make the number of charges more manageable. In other words, in early depositions each defendant was charged with possession of each gun at each camp, resulting in hundreds of charges. That has now been amended to a single charge for possession at each camp (.i.e. each individual visit to the Ruatoki bush camp resulted in one firearms charge). As an example, when arrested one defendant originally faced 3 charges, then at depositions the number of charges  rose to 13, but now has returned to the original 3 charges. Even so, the number of individual charges is in the dozens.

With regard to bail. Remember that in their original statements the Police were opposed to bail for the accused, citing the imminent threat they posed to the community. That has all changed. The most onerous bail conditions have been lifted and travel restrictions relaxed although not completely removed. It is my understanding that Tame Iti will again travel to Europe this summer to perform more Shakespeare (Iti was allowed to travel abroad earlier this year in order to participate in theatrical productions in Europe) and Urs Singer has been allowed to visit his ailing parents in Europe as well (the irony of Tame Iti doing Shakespeare in European theaters–as a sort of cultural ambassador, if you will–while on trial in NZ is not lost on me, but I shall avoid mentioning that in my summation below simply because there are other ironies worth noting. But it does point to how serious a threat to the security of Aotearoa he is considered to be by the government).

Then there is the issue of the means by which the case was constructed, to wit, the human and electronic surveillance and wiretaps used to monitor the accused. The Solicitor General’s decision to not invoke the TSA proved to be problematic for the government’s case, since much of the means by which the activists were tracked and evidence gathered were only allowable under the TSA. With no TSA charges on the menu, the admissibility of the evidence collected under its provisions was open to legal challenge. That soon came.

In August, applications  were made by the defense that all search warrants, in-person covert surveillance (conducted by the Police Special Tactics Group) and stationary covert cameras were illegal. By and large, the defendants won that part of the argument. In September the presiding judge declared at least 6 of 9 warrants illegal, specifically declaring illegal all in-person covert surveillance and stationary cameras. The latter was deemed illegal because the police trespassed onto private land in order to install the cameras (it is not currently possible to get a warrant for surveillance cameras on private property in NZ). The Police Special Intelligence Group tried to justify its actions by claiming in retrospect that they sought judicial oversight in doing so (presumably with reference to the TSA). In reality, they knew at the time that they couldn’t get warrants for such activity without the TSA, but did so anyway. Now that evidence is inadmissible. Even so, the government won on excluding text messages, and it remains to be seen whether the defense will challenge that ruling in the Court of Appeal. (A good summary of the decision is available here).

 The second stage of this application was heard in September and a decision is still pending. Under Sec 30 of the Evidence Act, in order for evidence to be ruled inadmissable, it must be found to be both illegal and unreasonable. This differs greatly from the US where it follows quite logically that activity which is illegal is by nature unreasonable, but the police in NZ are given a much greater benefit of the doubt on this matter. This is an important distinction, because that means that even if the evidence is deemed to have been illegally obtained, it still can be ruled admissible in a NZ Court if it is deemed “reasonable.” QC Harrison has consequently made submissions about why inclusion of this evidence was unreasonable. The main thrust of his argument is that the police’s trespass was sustained, deliberate and knowing. It happened over a period of nearly a year on land that was clearly private property. The judgement is still pending on this part of the defense motion. Whoever loses is very likely to appeal because the case could well hinge on the disputed evidence.

In the last weeks  the defense has making an application for a stay of the proceedings based on pre-trial publicity. In essence, that the case has been so prejudiced that the Urewera 18 cannot get a fair trial. Interestingly, the most recent  precedent for such an application was made by the same two lawyers on behalf of the two suspected Mossad agents who
were arrested for attempting to procure false passports in 2005.

The defendants are next due to appear in court in Auckland in mid-December. For those interested, the hearings are open to the public but those attending should expect increased security measures and the possibility of Crown objections to their presence if it is considered injurious to their case (the Crown has already objected to filming of the hearings for documentary purposes).

So what are the ironies of the case so far? Well, for starters there is the parallel with the Zaoui case. In both instances the government began by throwing out unfounded accusations of “terrorism,” only to see their case for it crumble under legal scrutiny.  For all the talk of terrorism, it was the Police Special Tactics Group, not the counter-terrorism component of the NZSAS or the specifically-trained Counter Terrorism Tactical Assault Group (CTTAG) who conducted the surveillance and led the raids (which indicates that the government did not take the threat of terrorism seriously enough to justify use of the forces designated for that role). The money spent on the prosecution and legal defense of both cases is also on a par, if not more in the latter instance.

Another irony is that the arms dealer who (allegedly) supplied information to some of the defendants about how to construct silencers, on how to modify a starter’s pistol into a real weapon, and who allegedly provided instruction on how to convert flare grenade launchers into the real thing, has not been charged with a single offense (reportedly due to his being a Police informant).

For its part, rather than strengthen criminal law to deal with politically-motivated criminal conspiracies in light of the “unworkability” of the TSA (thereby avoiding the authoritarian penchant to create a different category of “political” crimes labeled as “terroristic”), National has re-introduced a Search and Surveillance Bill first proposed by Labour last year in which powers of search and surveillance would be expanded dramatically (to include warrantless searches, eavesdropping and tapping of computers and phones) by a broader range of government agencies–including local administrative authorities! The irony is that, rather than use the Urewera case as an example of how NOT to conduct a criminal investigation against political dissidents, the government has instead moved to relax legal restrictions governing covert monitoring of suspects, including on private property (i.e., the exact practices that were deemed illegal in September by the presiding judge in this case).

But the ultimate irony may be this. According to defendant Omar Hamed, “October 15 was a reminder that the state is not our friend. It is a violent, colonial, racist institution that serves the interests of the corporations and the ruling class. Well organised, anti-statist, defiant communities pose a threat to the state and colonial capitalism…” (taken from a passage included in the exhibition catalogue for the Arts auction “Explosive Expression” held to raise funds for the Urewera 18 on October 16, 2009 in Wellington). And yet it is this purported colonial, racist and corporate justice system that has allowed the Urewera 18 to formulate and fund a defense that has successfully challenged the case against them so far. It would seem that, at least in this case, utu  (as both justice and revenge) does in fact come in colonial garb.

My view is that by the end of the process a majority of the defendants will be acquitted and only a handful will be convicted of minor firearms violations. It will be left for the NZ public to decide whether the entire affair was worth the effort, and whether indeed, if ever, there were the makings of a terrorist plot percolating in the Ureweras.

PS: I have some inquiries out at the moment that might allow me to update the status of the case. If so, I shall do so post haste and append a notification at the end of this post.

PPS: This post has been updated to reflect my remembering of another irony regarding the government response to its failures in this case (see irony #3 above) as well some fine points regarding the charges.

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.

A victory for common sense and democracy

datePosted on 11:27, September 17th, 2009 by Lew

… these are the sort of words Michael Laws would be using if the decision to spell Whanganui incorrectly had been endorsed by the NZ Geographic Board, so I feel justified in using similar language given that the decision has gone my way.

As I have argued at great length, this is a good decision. I’ll work through the details of the submissions when I get time, hopefully tonight.

L

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

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

Normalising diversity

datePosted on 00:23, July 31st, 2009 by Lew

May I echo the inimitable Queen of Thorns, and say how great it is that Māori Language Week is being so well observed. Labour MPs on Red Alert are posting in te reo; Nickelodeon has done Spongebob Squarepants in Māori; Lockwood Smith is reading the Parliamentary prayer in Māori and Te Ururoa Flavell on Tuesday raised a point of order during Question Time (in Māori, no less!) to insist that the Minister of Transport pronounce “Kamo” as “Kamo” rather then “Carmow”. Even David Farrar has a post in Māori, and on that count he beats me at least. Well done.

Such usage is the thin edge of a wedge of linguistic diversity becoming normalised in Aotearoa. The wedge was first driven long ago, but one of the more memorable blows was struck by the venerable Naida Glavish who (working as a tolls operator) got in trouble for answering the phone ‘kia ora’ and generated great and unexpected support. When returning sick and exhausted, with no money and a broken shoulder from a long and abortive road trip across Asia (more on which another time), I could have hugged the (Pākehā) Air NZ cabin steward who greeted me with ‘Kia ora, bro, welcome home’. The NZ Herald has redesigned their masthead in Māori (though I can’t find a copy of it on the website just now). Māori introductions on National Radio and other media are commonplace these days and everyone knows what they mean. I recall the Māori Language Week last year, or the year before, when they were formally instituted and then – the horror! – their usage continued after the end of the week. There was apparently a bit of a backlash against it, and Geoff Robinson read some messages calling for a return to English-only introductions. Robinson, bless his English heart, had one word for the complainers: “tough”.

And that’s all they deserve. My high school German teacher had a banner above her blackboard which read “Monolingualism can be cured”, and it can be. Other languages must be used to be known, and normalisation is the first part of usage. Raymond Huo, also on Red Alert, is posting in Zhōng Wén; it is wonderful.

It goes beyond language, as well. Cultures, norms and ways of doing, approaches and modes of understanding are not monopolised by English-speaking WASP culture. I wrote earlier this year about a book by John Newton about James K Baxter and the Jerusalem commune – it is called “The Double Rainbow” and has been published. The title is Baxter’s, and Newton explains it in the introduction:

The double rainbow is Baxter’s symbol for a mutually regenerative bicultural relationship. He recognised that the Pākehā majority ignored Māori culture, not just to the cost of Māori – though few Pākehā have seen this more clearly or objected more trenchantly – but also to its own detriment. Pākehā, he wrote in 1969, a few months before he first moved to Jerusalem, ‘have lived alongside a psychologically rich and varied minority culture for a hundred years and have taken nothing from it but a few place names and a great deal of plunder.’

Diversity is both a means and an end. It is a means by which people may understand one another and live in harmony and all such wishy-washiness; but more importantly, it is an end in itself because two heads are better than one, every culture has its own irrationalities and blind spots and deleterious foibles. Humankind has achieved its primacy as a species through the constant adaptation of cultural and biological systems which spread risk rather than concentrating it. Monocultures are vulnerable; they may be unified and may even be strong against certain threats, but against uncertainty, or against threats or challenges of an unknown or unpredictable nature, homogeneity a weakness rather than a strength. Diversity is resilience. If you won’t believe me, take it from Robert A Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Who wants a society of insects?

L

Drifting toward a surveillance culture

datePosted on 10:27, July 9th, 2009 by Lew

As a propaganda geek, I’m concerned (some might say paranoid) about surveillance and its growing use as a means of social control, or as a tool to gather information used to justify and enact other social control mechanisms. Surveillance is the flipside of propaganda, and propaganda systems of social control can’t function properly without the feedback which surveillance provides; effectively, without surveillance, the controller is blind. This encompasses both the hard kind (cameras, enforced ID checking, enhanced search and detention rights) and the soft kind (data mining and data matching, consumer profiling, and so on). For this reason I don’t have a Facebook account, or a Fly Buys card, and I don’t use my gmail account for anything much other than website registrations as a spamtrap; and everything into or out of my webserver in Texas is encrypted. Although since they decided that registration wasn’t mandatory I do have a Snapper card (I wrote about potential surveillance problems with Snapper a bit over a year ago). I feed it with cash. Note: I’m not paranoid about hiding my identity; I’m paranoid about what other information might be matched to it and how an interested party might use that information to target me for use as part of their agenda.

Anyway. Surveillance is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, as people trade off privacy against security, but the problem is that the trade-off is implicitly framed as a matter of who you choose to trust – the ‘crims’ (those with something to hide and therefore something to fear), or those who maintain that security (and who necessarily have greater powers to put that information to use).

I’m working on a project at present which involves reviewing a great deal of media coverage about antisocial behaviour in Western Australia, and surveillance appears widely regarded as the key to cracking the (apparently endemic) problems they have over there. These include:

  • Cameras in streets, cameras in parking lots, cameras on nightclub doors; cameras above dance floors, cameras everywhere, in many cases mandated by liquor licensing regulators
  • Rights for police and other authorities to access footage in real time
  • Fingerprint scanners on club doors
  • The requirement to ‘sign in’ to clubs by giving over your ID as a condition of entry
  • Systems by which one club can (must? not sure about this) immediately share its patron database with other clubs in the area, so if a patron is ejected from one club they are barred from them all
  • Powers for police and licensing regulators to ban ‘problem patrons’ from every single licensed premise in the state for a period of up to five years, without them having been found guilty of any offence

ID cards have worked well in Europe beforeFrankly, it’d be enough to put me off going to the pub. The culture there has become so accepting of surveillance that this is generally unquestioned by those in authority, and the electorate demands nothing more of its representatives. Perhaps even worse is the UK, whose national ID card scheme was the subject of an excellent but unsuccessful counter-propaganda campaign.

While we have some surveillance cameras (most notably in Queen Street and central Christchurch) and a reliance on RFIDs (in passports, for instance), and we have a police culture of aggressive surveillance and with strong authoritarian tendencies, things aren’t so bad in New Zealand. So it is with some dismay that I read yesterday’s op-ed by Chapman Tripp solicitors Simon Peart and Richard May on the NZ Herald website which warns of the alarming powers of surveillance and social control which could be exercised by regulatory bodies including the Commerce Commission, the Reserve Bank (!) and MAF under the newly (and quietly)-introduced Search and Surveillance Bill. They really are quite alarming – the right to covertly surveil ordinary citizens in their own homes, the extention of enforcement powers normally the preserve of the police to other regulatory bodies, the right to infiltrate and surveil computer networks and to secure premises against their legitimate owners, and, frighteningly, the nullification of legal privilege in some communications. Read the article. Read the bill if you can spare the time (it’s 196 exhausting and obfuscatory pages).

As I said, this comes down to trust. The problem is that, even though I generally trust governments, I don’t trust their regulatory and social control agencies which are not subject to electoral veto. That’s the problem with this bill – it seeks to remove the matters of surveillance and investigation from the political sphere where it belongs and create a new surveillance culture norm in NZ.

Edit: I have somehow missed the Gordon Campbell’s excellent piece on the same topic. Read that, too.

L

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