Archive for ‘Social change’ Category

Is the Christian Right a necessary sea anchor?

datePosted on 06:00, January 19th, 2009 by Anita

In the early 1970s a group named the Family Rights Association wrote

All families are suffering at present, infidelity and divorce are very common. Marriages are breaking down at a record rate. When love dies hatred emerges and the children are exposed to suffering and neglect. Parents often see their children’s lives being ruined by drugs, alcoholism and promiscuity, swept along by an overwhelming flood of pornography and evil. Pressure groups claim that marriage is outmoded. De facto relationships are accepted by society and are treated generously by the Government. Normal sexuality is almost submerged by demands for recognition of homosexuality and other perversions. Illegitimacy and venereal disease have reached epidemic proportions. Social anarchy threatens.

Much of that could have been written by Family First in 2009, or many other groups in the intervening 35 years.

Despite this constant thread of social conservatism and fearful reaction to social change, NZ has made enormous socially progressive change since the early 1970s. We have criminalised rape within marriage, decriminalised anal sex, provided access to abortion, passed the Human Rights Act, allowed no fault divorce, decriminalised prostitution, provided sex education in schools, enabled legal recognition of same-sex relationships, banned corporal punishment in schools, and passed domestic violence protection laws (to name just a few).

Perhaps the role of the Christian Right is a necessary one; it does not prevent change but it slows it and makes sure there’s enough discussion that the more conservative members of our society don’t get left behind and alienated from a society that moves too quickly and doesn’t take the time to persuade them and bring them along.

While I campaign for more liberal and progressive progress, I’m not sure I would be willing to pay the price of a divided antagonistic society. Perhaps I should thank the Christian Right for slowing us down enough that we can move together as a community.

The case against legalising marriage

datePosted on 06:00, January 12th, 2009 by Anita

During the Civil Unions debate I kept arguing, in private settings, that we shouldn’t legalise same-sex marriage; that it was the fourth best option and we should actually be aiming to delegalise all marriage. Anjum’s post at the Hand Mirror about why the 2 year separation period is nonsensical reminded me of why we shouldn’t let the Crown be in charge of our marriages.

Marriage is a family, societal or religious bond. It belongs to the people who get married, and their family, their friends, their communities, their congregations and their God(s). Why should any of us be required to ask the Queen for permission (or Anand Satyanand, or Lockwood Smith, or John Key, or Brendan Boyle depending on your view of the constitutionality)? Isn’t it a marriage when we get married, not when we send a form to the Queen (etc etc)? Isn’t it up to us, our friends and families, our communities and churches to decide what marriage means, not 80 people in 1955?

If I ever chose to get married, I would do so in a ceremony appropriate to my culture, community and faith. We would stand before our family, friends and community and ask them to bless and care for our marriage. We would make promises of marriage to each other, and the people around us would witness and support that. Isn’t that what it takes to make a marriage?

Europeans behind the Confucian Throne

datePosted on 22:06, January 11th, 2009 by Pablo

There is  state in Asia  that is a remarkable story of modern economic-political success. From its origins as a post-colonial, post-war, disease-ridden ethnic enclave in swampland fronted by a primitive deep water port ringed by brothels and opium dens, its has transformed itself, under the tutelage of one imaginative (albeit authoritarian) political genius into a paragon of  Asian developmentalism. In its socio-economic scope and depth, it rivals the conquest of the American West, minus the ethnic cleansing. In its self-conscious championing of its alternative to liberal democracy, it stands unequaled.

But there is a dirty secret to this country’s success, one that even national leaders will not admit. It is European complicity in fostering its one-party regime’s rise and continuity. Without Europeans (mostly British and Germans, but including Australians, New Zealanders, US, Dutch and French nationals amongst majority contributors), this Asian dragon would collapse in a week. That is because, at around 10% of the population, Europeans are the skilled labour that staff upper management in private and state enterprises, ministries and other cultural-educational institutions that are the foundation upon which the national “miracle” rests. They are, in other words, the silent partners in this story of authoritarian success, because while the local elite keeps the political order in check, the Europeans supply the brain power to grow the economic base. The local skilled labour force is too small to do so by themselves.

For their troubles, these Europeans live extremely well. Most make six or seven figure salaries, with full subsidies of their (exorbitant) rents, cars, maids and school tuitions at private foreign curriculum schools (there are over two dozen foreign schools offering  American, Australian, French, German Japanese and Chinese curricula, among others) . They shop in Western-oriented supermarkets and malls, and they socialize with the most Westernized elements of native society. They need not learn any of the local dialects, because the language of the powerful is English. Many middle aged European men display a penchant for young(er) Asian wimin, so as far as they are concerned their cultural “immersion” is complete. As far as the government is concerned, the more such immersion, the better. Put another way, these Europeans individually and collectively benefit from their participation in the authoritarian project.

The irony of this arrangement  at least twofold: Expat Europeans accept the regime’s argument that liberal democracy is unsuitable for the country given its conditions, and that in fact liberal democracy is a decadent political form that has been surpassed by the more efficient local model, which is based on purported Confucian values. Given that almost 30 percent of those native to the country have no cultural affinity with Confucianism, that is debatable even at home. The irony extends to the fact that this new Asian alternative to liberal democracy structurally depends on expats from the very countries that it considers “decadent” and chaotic.  What is not debatable is that Europeans come to this place to enrich themselves, remains silent in the face of  a host of undemocratic indignities visited upon the locals, and even dare to talk about how “safe” the place is in contrast to their home countries (at least if you do not talk politics). They accept the regime’s logic that stability, efficiency and steadiness of governmental purpose trumps open voice and unfettered grassroots participation in the political process.

A number of prominent New Zealanders have transited through this Asian success story on their way to greater things at home. Upon their return to NZ some have entered politics, with others prominent in business. What does it say about these people that they would choose such a place as a launching platform or stepping stone for subsequent careers in NZ? Why should they purport  to speak for all New Zealanders in either private or public life, given their active complicity in an authoritarian project that rejects the fundamentals of New Zealand’s socio-political order? What does it say about average New Zealanders that they would allow themselves to be led by such people?

At the very least we should hope that these repatriated opportunists are mere hypocrites that toed the authoritarian line while in Asia, rather than their having accepted the argument that liberal democracy is less preferable than a developmental dictatorship when it comes to political efficiency and social stability (to say nothing of crime). If the latter were to be true (that these returning expats actually believe in the Confucian developmental alternative to liberal democracy) and we add to this the influx of Asian immigrants who retain belief systems rooted in the Confucian values extolled by the authoritarian developmentalist model,  that combination of views could signal a change in the terms of political debate in a “harder” direction, or at least could arguably signal a retreat from the egalitarian ethos that is at the heart of NZ social and political culture.

To be sure: Many, if not most Asian immigrants to NZ seek to embrace the NZ socio-political ideal rather than reject or modify it. Moreover, they are not the only ones who may have legitimate reasons to see a need for more efficiency in government, safety on the streets and stability in the social order. The point here is that the returning expats from Asian developmentalist states and others may see utility in a “harder” approach to the NZ conundrum. Phrased differently: the imposition of market steerage of the NZ economy was done in a “hard” way (at least for a mature democracy). Is social and political retrogression in pursuit of the Confucian ideal at the hands of these repatriated expats and their internal allies not that far off?

Symbolic action – blood on the Rabin memorial

datePosted on 09:14, January 8th, 2009 by Anita

There’s been quite a lot of talk in recent days over Father Gerard Burn’s protest action of smearing his own blood and red paint on the memorial to Yitzhak Rabin. I have very mixed feelings, but I will stand up for Father Burns.

On the one hand, a statement that Rabin’s legacy has been tainted by the blood of innocents seems so very true, and would not be a criticism or attack on the Rabin himself. One can imagine Rabin’s shade weeping at the actions of the last few weeks.

On the other, it is hard to not hear the echo of at least some criticism of Rabin; perhaps for not going far enough, perhaps for the fish hooks in the Oslo accords, perhaps a stronger criticism. Whether that echo was intentional or not, it is there and Burn must have known it would be heard.

I wasn’t there, if I had been I would not have smeared the paint or cut my finger to join his action. But I would have stood there in support of Father Burn’s decision to take that symbolic action. It’s a line call for me, but a couple of things tip the balance: his use of his own blood fits a particular form of faith based protest; the act was not constructed as a ritual desecration; it is not Rabin’s grave; the act was for peace, it was not filled or framed with hate or anger. Perhaps as someone with a Peace Church heritage I give particular latitude to actions for peace that come out of faith and personal sacrifice… perhaps.

Like so many things about the Israel-Palestine situation this is a hard hard decision, but that makes it so much more important for us to stand up for what we believe.

Finally, can I recommend you go read Poneke’s contribution to the debate – he doesn’t agree with me, but as usual his arguments and well thought through and he stands up for what he believes.

At the movies in San Francisco

datePosted on 09:07, January 7th, 2009 by Jafapete

For a crusty old lefty, there’s no place better than San Francisco to spend some time. SF’s inclusive, emancipating social values, oddly out of place in hyper-capitalist, dog-eat-dog U.S.A., warm the heart. Where better to see Milk, the biopic about the martyred gay activist and SF city politician?

Inevitably, the taxi ride to the cinema merged into the experience. Driving through the Tenderloin in the half-light of early evening, we passed the soup kitchen on Ellis St. For more than a block, the poor and homeless queued silently, two or three deep, abject and despairing. In jarring contrast with this grim spectacle, we pulled up to the cinema in a former Cadillac dealership on Van Ness, resplendent with its restored opulence. Plus ca change?

Milk is deeply moving, not least because of its authenticity. Sean Penn’s almost too-perfect mimicry of Milk’s mannerisms is reinforced by a supporting cast that includes members of the original group of associates. It’s a really well-made movie, and Penn’s and Josh Brolin’s performances are the stuff of Oscars. I’ve never seen raw archival footage integrated into a non-doco so seamlessly. The ending, operatic and defiant, is a paean not just to Harvey Milk, but to the movement that he inspired. In the wake of Prop 8, the movie is eerily apposite, but provides a timely reminder that the forces of reaction can be overcome, though not without set-backs.

By chance, the walk down to the Van Ness MUNI Station afterwards took us right past City Hall. A group of Sherriff’s deputies came swaggering out, brimming with the confidence of authority and the lethal firepower attached to their belts. Plus ca change indeed.

Rights vs traditional values

datePosted on 06:01, January 7th, 2009 by Anita

Over at Still Truckin’, Ari’s posted about the effect of the same-sex marriage debate in the United States. While I’m not totally in agreement that a scaring the conservatives is a huge success (it’s not that hard for a start :) it has illuminated a huge divide within the United States, and perhaps within our own community.

Some of the academic analysis has looked at the tension between the “rights” frame and the “traditional values” frame which occurs in the debate. On the one hand we have GLBT communities arguing for equal rights, on the other some conservative Christian communities trying to protect the traditional values of their faith and the wider society. In much of the world the “rights” frame reigns supreme, but in the US they seem to have found the tipping point, and the rights arguments that win elsewhere fail in the face of moral and social conservatism and the defence of the family.

In New Zealand we see the same divide: Civil Unions, Prostitution Law Reform (rights of the sex workers to safety vs traditional values of sex-within-marriage), section 59 (rights of the child vs traditional values of child rearing and families). With section 59 are we coming toward the tipping point; where the traditional values of some will outweigh the arguments for the rights of children?

And if we are shifting the balance in those newer rights spaces, will we see it shift in existing issues?

In particular National’s plans for education raise that flag for me – increasing funding for independent schools but capping spending? It sounds like it’ll decrease equity of access to quality education for all students (so a step backwards for children’s rights) to afford an increase in funding for schools specialising in traditional morals teaching.

So, will we follow the US and let a conservative groups arguing for traditional values start to eat away the rights gains? Or will we stay true to NZ’s progressive history of advancing our citizen’s rights?

123... 131415Previous