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.

Submit!

datePosted on 13:21, August 16th, 2009 by Lew

Submissions to the NZ Geographic Board regarding the proposed change of the spelling of ‘Wanganui’ to ‘Whanganui’ close tomorrow. Whether you support the change or the status quo, I urge you to make your position (and arguments) known to the NZGB and to the country.

It will come as no surprise to readers that I support the proposed name change. The majority of my submission is drawn from the four posts I have written on the topic. There’s plenty (plenty!) more about this out there on the interwebs as well.

Submit!

L

Edit: My full submission is below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

No longer a good, not yet a service

datePosted on 17:07, August 13th, 2009 by Lew

“Getting what you deserve” by Nick Smith in today’s Independent (which isn’t, it’s Fairfax-owned) is a good read about the future of the media. In beautiful irony, it doesn’t seem to be online, so I’ll excerpt it here:

“Journalists deserve low pay” Robert Picard, media economics professor at Jonkoping University, Sweden, opined provocatively. “Wages are compensation for value creation and journalists simply aren’t creating much value these days.”

The alarming disappearance of papers and journalists (27,000 have lost their jobs in the US alone in the last 18 months) is, Picard argues, a result of loss of control of content.

Picard believes skilled journalists are not like skilled plumbers. Their skill is the distribution of other peoples’ knowledge. Now, that knowledge is distributed online at little cost, and control of the saleable commodity has disappeared. “The primary value created today comes from the basic underlying value of the labour of journalists. Unfortunately that value is now near zero.”

Rupert Murdoch, so often cast as the scourge of journalism, is shaping up as a white knight. His News Corp is to start charging for website content. … His determination to wrest control of content and ensure payment is significant. The Financial Times followed last week with its own iTunes-inspired business model Fairfax Media, Australia-based publisher of The Independent, is also said to be considering joining the pay-per-read campaign. If both follow through, every daily Australian newspaper, save the West Australian, will charge for at least some online reading. Fairfax chief executive Brian McCarthy’s comments that digital delivery must be monetised will cheer Barry Colman, publisher of the National Business Review, the only New Zealand website to charge a fee. Colman says a pay-per-view model is the only way to stop further newspaper losses and the erosion of quality.

[Edit: It’s online now. Thanks I/S.]

The problem with Murdoch, Colman and indeed the good professor whose quote leads the piece, is that they see news as a good; a thing which people should pay for. But really, it’s not a good – it’s a service.

Or more precisely, news text and information is a good, but it can’t readily be monetised – what can, and must, be monetised is the service of distributing and providing access to that good, and most critically, the service of filtering out all the stuff which is irrelevant. This is the service journalists provide – their real value isn’t, as Picard says, generating content in the paragraph factory, it’s in their role as decision-makers defining what is news and what isn’t, what people need to know about and what they don’t.

Murdoch and his cohort see the internet, which robs their ‘good’ of value, as a problem to be solved or circumvented. But the internet is the only thing which will allow for the establishment of a genuine service which will enable media companies to provide tailored, targeted content to individual readers.

Content can be free – but as the volume of content grows, the value of relevance increases. That’s where the money is.

L

Contemplating the neofascist revival.

datePosted on 13:16, August 13th, 2009 by Pablo

Courtesy of Rob Taylor back in Karekare, here is a link to an interesting article about the rise of a neo- or proto-fascist movement in the US. Although I have some quibbles with the structural as well as some of the political aspects of the argument (at least in comparison with the original (European) versions of fascism), the article is nevertheless worth a read. To me the trend is not just evident in the US, but in the rise of right-wing movements in Asia, Europe (and to a lesser extent Latin America) as well. For NZ readers interested in the quality of Kiwi democracy, the question is whether the trend is now evident at home, and if so, what are the means of forestalling it from developing further.

Some of my best friends are men…

datePosted on 06:00, August 13th, 2009 by Anita

Most of the talk about the trial of Clayton Weatherston and the killings by George Sodini has focussed on the anti-women sentiment and sexism woven into the discourse and society. But isn’t there anti-men sentiment in equal measure? Both are rooted in the idea that men cannot control themselves – when it comes to issues of sex and love men have no self control. The story it tells is that for men rejection becomes a killing rage without the chance of self-restraint.

In fact it’s rooted not only in the idea that men can’t control their rage, but in the idea that rage is their autonomic response to anything that goes wrong.

The prevalence of those myths and the unthinking acceptance of them doesn’t just lead to the deaths and beatings and rapes of hundreds of women a year, it also leads to the discounting and devaluing of masculinity.

I know so many good men: men who love, men who care, men with self control, men who do not have barely suppressed rage burning in their souls 24×7. Men who are diminished by every retelling of those myths of the generic caveman response.

When we finally repeal the provocation partial defence from the Crimes Act it will be a step forward not only for the women and gay men whose killings are trivialised by the defence, but also for every strong capable man whose masculinity is devalued by the idea that the measure of a man is his capacity to lapse into an uncontrollable killing rage.

Wanting to believe

datePosted on 17:02, August 12th, 2009 by Lew

Now that Barack Obama’s Kenyan ‘birth certificate’ has been revealed as a fairly simple forgery, you’d reckon the birther nutcases would crawl back into their holes in shame, right? Not a chance. (Original site here – the fact it triggers anti-malware warnings is proof of a coverup, natch.)

So it is with any such theory. Evidence brought to bear simply points to a wider, stronger and better-resourced conspiracy.

roveplato

Memo to birthers: you’ve lost Karl Rove.

(Cartoon via Open parachute.)

L

Putin the scribbler

datePosted on 10:26, August 12th, 2009 by Lew

In contrast to last week’s vanity shots of Vladimir Putin, an illustration that you don’t get anywhere in the Russian political-security complex by writing down your thoughts on bits of paper.

putin-scrib

Or by looking idle.

(Thanks to AG for the pic.)

L

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