Posts Tagged ‘Chris Trotter’

Brogressives and fauxgressives

datePosted on 14:51, June 27th, 2009 by Lew

Chris Trotter doesn’t want to debate, which is good, because there’s really no point to it – his arguments and mine are at cross purposes because we differ on a key point: whether support for independent self-determination for power minorities is necessary to call oneself a ‘progressive’. Chris doesn’t think so. As far as he’s concerned, Māori self-determination is a nice idea, so long as it doesn’t try to take a different line to the honkey Marxist agenda which he misdefines as ‘progressivism’. If that were the case, then this “well-meaning but misguided political naïf” would need to turn in his cloth cap. But progressivism hasn’t ever just been about the white working classes dictating the political agenda to other power minorities; it’s never held that the needs of all power minorities be crushed by the worker solidarity agenda. That’s why my previous post was directed at the “Marxist left”, not at the progressive movement. I’m ok with not being part of that clique – comfortable, as Danyl Mclauchlan said, having no ideological flaws that a few decades digging canals in Fiordland wouldn’t set straight.

The progressive movement has been about power minorities supporting each others’ political agendas against those who would keep political power in the hands of patrician elites. Diversity is a political strategy. You should support peoples’ right to make their own political decisions, even if you disagree with those decisions, because if you don’t you could find support for the right to make your own political decisions to be somewhat lacking. So while Chris is playing the No True Scotsman game, I can play, too: if you don’t support the rights of indigenous people to determine their own political destiny, you’re not a progressive. More in the nature of a slogan: if you’re not a brogressive, you’re a fauxgressive.*

Until we can come to some sort of sense on this matter there’s no point in continuing the discussion. Chris, by his repeated denial and denigration of indigenous rights to political self-determination, criticising the independence of the Greens from Labour, and in denying that women ought to be free from sexual predation as of right, seems well on his way to becoming one of those conservative baby-boomers which are the subject of his latest column. For shame.

Edit: I withdraw and apologise for the redacted paragraph above, as a response to Chris’ justified complaints about my conduct here. This wasn’t up to the KP standard, and I’m sorry for that. I’ve replied to Chris in the comments of his thread on the hope of more meaningful engagement.


Meanwhile, Relic and Imperial Zeppelin have posted good responses to my last post on this matter, which are worth responding to and which I think neatly illustrate the problems I have with this sell-out / kupapa / brown tories / haters & wreckers line of argument.

Imperial Zeppelin, first:

Where do the Maori and Labour Parties come into the equation? Both these political entities may well claim to advocate on class and/or race issues, but do they?
[…]
It would appear reasonable to expand on Marty Mars’ statement and contend simply that race and class issues (along with all the others) will not be resolved as long as you leave the resolution to others; never mind others who are beholden to interests inimical to class, race, gender and environmental interests.

I both agree and disagree, but this gets to the nub of the matter: power minorities need to drive their own political agendas. My view is that while neither the Labour party nor the māori party perfectly represent their nominal constituencies, they are nevertheless best-placed to advocate for those constituencies. Nobody else can do it for them; the degree of their success or failure will or ought to be be reflected in their electoral support.

Relic:

how about a quote from V.I. Lenin to back up the bus a little-“politics are the concentrated expression of economics”

This is precisely what’s wrong with the Marxist approach. Going back to a higher authority than Lenin, I consider politics to be the ‘master science’ – the discipline which governs which other disciplines are considered worthwhile. Far from being just economics, it encompasses religion, morality, ethics, war, epistemology, identity, history, actual science and more to boot. Politics is how people organise themselves in society. There are many referents of political identity, and it is for each individual to choose their own primary identity. Marxists who say it’s only economics tend to be those who, ironically, care mostly about money and the power which it brings.

The Maori Party is led by the likes of Prof. Winiata and embodies the hierarchical inclinations of certain tribal elites.

And the Labour party doesn’t embody the hierarchical inclinations of academic and public servant elites? Let’s not pretend that any party in parliament is actually a workers’ party – in the democratic systems we have, credible political vehicles are by necessity elite-dominated. So all you’re saying is that you prefer elites of one flavour to those of another.

The capitalists via their primary parliamentary representatives National/ACT recognise the need to embrace the large and growing Maori economic sector, unlikely to be sold off overseas at this stage, and needing to be diverted from potential co-operative (socialistic) forms asap. Yes, there is the parliamentary numbers game but it is not the main prize as I see it. Getting Maori to embrace the colonisers kaupapa-private property relations, is.

This is a much better point, but (like other criticisms of the māori party, it rests on two false premises: first, that Māori don’t know what’s best for Māori; and second, that Labour are substantially better.

Second issue first. With the Foreshore and Seabed Act, Labour did more damage to Māori access to resources, mana whenua status, equality before the law and collective resource control than any government of any colour had done for the better part of a century. The passage of that act was the most recent shot fired in the war of colonialism, which told Māori that they were not entitled to due process and redress in law, as other citizens were; that they had no right to even try to assert mana whenua rights to historic resources no matter how strong their claim; and that hapū-level ownership was not an option. And all this from their historic allies, whom Māori had supported without fail for generations.

It’s not that Labour had no choice, as they and their apologists claim – they had the choice of losing and retaining their principles and the loyalty of Māori, or winning without either. They chose the former, before the gauntlet was properly thrown down at Orewa, and subjugated tino rangatiratanga to political expedience, forcing Māori to once again lie back and think of Ingarangi in service of the ‘greater good’ which served the Pākehā majority. That was Labour’s decision to make, but the expectation that there would be no consequences was simply absurd, and speaks to the level of entitlement Labour felt it had to Māori loyalty. The māori party, more than anything else, was founded to demonstrate that government needs to earn the support of Māori, rather than enjoy it as of right, use it, and abuse it as convenience dicatates. So far it is doing that, though whether it will do so in the long term remains to be seen.

Many objections to the māori party decision to side with National focus solely on the losses, ignoring the possibility of gains or arguing that National have no intention of fulfilling any of their undertakings. It is true that National’s policies will probably inflict more acute economic harm on Māori in the short term, but there’s more to intergenerational indigenous politics than small-scale tactical gains and losses in economics, and the calculus is that short-term losses may be worth it for long-term gains.

The integrity of the tino rangatiratanga movement is just such a strategic gain. The first big test of the māori party’s strategy comes this Tuesday, when the Foreshore and Seabed Act review panel reports its recommendations to Chris Finlayson. Further tests will come in the next year as National and Labour begin to bid in earnest for the brown vote, supposing Labour begins to campaign at all. Even if the māori party is turfed out off parliament in 2011, if they have raised the importance and profile of kaupapa Māori politics such that no party in the future believes they can act as Labour did in 2004, they will have succeeded.

As for the argument that Labour policies help Māori because most Māori are working class and Labour policies help working class people, therefore all Māori should. This is simply a reverse ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ argument. The point is that Māori have different needs and, under the Treaty framework, different entitlements to the rest of the working class. A political movement which treats Māori simply as brown proles ignores this historical reality, and is an insult to all those who have fought for recognition and redress.

On to the first issue. After generations of relying on Pākehā elites to redress the abuses of the land wars and following, a group of Māori leaders have taken it upon themselves to develop a principled strategy to find redress by their own means. Some Māori have supported them, and if they fail to make progress toward that redress, or do so by sacrificing other, more important things (such as the kaupapa of collective ownership) then the party will (or should) lose that support. This is fundamentally the point: the decision as to whether the calculus described above is worthwhile for Māori is for Māori to make, not for “well-meaning but misguided” honkeys who want to co-opt the politics of tino rangatiratanga as part of their worker solidarity movement.

Self-determination is a fundamental component of liberty. If you approve of political self-determination only for those movements which serve your own political ends, you’re little better than the Iranian clerics, for whom any political candidate is acceptable, as long as they’re a Shi’a fundamentalist. Let a thousand political agendas bloom; that is the liberal way.

L

* With thanks to Melissa McEwan, whose blog is well and truly open for business again.

Memo to the left: the māori party is not your enemy

datePosted on 15:59, May 16th, 2009 by Lew

Eddie at The Standard has posted the latest in a long line of post-election attacks on the māori party, this time for Tariana Turia criticising Labour’s filibuster against the supercity bill. Leaving aside the fact that I disagree with Tariana’s remarks on the filibuster, this attack is typical in that it picks up some specific decision and applies a convenient ideological misinterpretation of its purpose and likely consequences to prove the existence of a traitorous conspiracy against Māori, the working class, the broader left, freedom, truth, justice, motherhood and apple pie. The Standard is far from being alone in this – others on the left resort to this tactic, and the the original and most egregious example of the form is Chris Trotter’s rabid “Kupapa” attack on Tariana Turia (which doesn’t seem to be online but was helpfully reproduced in full by DPF).

There are good grounds upon which to criticise the māori party, but engaging with the government in good faith and using their independence to progress their agenda, however incompletely, isn’t one. Or to put it another way, it’s reasonable to criticise them on the success or failure of their programme, but not for having a programme at all. Having been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea the māori party decided that the devil needed to be taken at his word for once, and at this point their good relationship with National is all that stands between us and a National/ACT government with a clear mandate to enact precisely the sort of jack-booted majoritarian agenda against which Labour and the Greens are now filibustering. The decision to work with National was a risky one, and if that risk doesn’t pay off they will be sorely punished by their electorate. Labour supporters seem intent on undermining the relationship in order to regain the political allegiance of Māori, and that’s a very big risk. They are also intent on undermining the Greens’ more recent relationship with National, thereby undermining what few progressive options exist for this term. Just because Labour has to sit out the coming three years doesn’t mean others on the left must do so – or even that they should, because every progressive voice involved in the governmental process has a moderating effect on what would otherwise be a very ideologically homogeneous group. The māori party isn’t strictly a left party but it remains a potential ally which Labour alienates at its peril.

If it is to be a credible force, progressive politics in this country should be about more than the kind of `my party, right or wrong’ partisan blindness that these sorts of attacks suggest, and which Trotter’s columns make explicit. The greatest weakness historically faced by progressive movements is their fractiousness in the face of a united opposition movement who are just as strongly factionalised but are prepared to put their individual differences on hold in service of common goals. The greatest strength of progressive movements is their independence and tactical diversity, but this is only of value when that diversity is allowed to stand, rather than being cut down if it does not conform. The left must be as politically inclusive as the society it wishes to create. Howling denunciations and ostracising those who disagree plays directly into the hands of the massed forces opposite.

The impression given by attacks like this is that Labour want three disastrous years, so they’ll have an easier time regaining the treasury benches in 2011. I hope, for all of our sakes, that they have a Plan B.

L

For the record

datePosted on 13:00, April 15th, 2009 by Lew

I had prepared a thorough response to Chris Trotter’s Fiji Agonistes post, and was going to wait a few more days to see whether he reposted it on Bowalley Road before publishing it. Now Chris has saved me the trouble by redacting his post with an apology of sorts. Kiwipolitico is not the place for perpetuating such disagreements, and so I’ll leave it be with a few final words.

I remain a bit disappointed that Chris hasn’t bothered to engage with my previous critiques, and I agree somewhat with Lurgee’s assessment that he’s been dickwaving to try to gain status as “the alpha-male of the leftish bloglands”. While I was indeed furious enough with the personal attacks* to come out blazing against them, I was not behind the redaction; that’s Chris’ own doing. So, Chris, thank you – and while nothing is forgotten, I appreciate your good sense in this matter.

L

*The `kupapa Pakeha’ attack was the most offensive, and I can’t let it go unmentioned. I’ve heard that one before – a man with a bald head and steel-capped boots in Molly Malone’s once called me a `race traitor’ on account of my wearing a Tino Rangatiratanga hoodie. Not very progressive, that.

Trotter: more on the h

datePosted on 00:03, April 7th, 2009 by Lew

This blog is almost becoming Kiwipoliticoh, since given my limited time at present I’m having to pick my battles.

I’m pleased Chris Trotter has come to terms with his inner racist. His characteristically torrid column is basically a rehash of the bogus arguments I discredited here, which Chris has apparently not bothered to read, much less answer the questions I pose in it. His latest column makes explicit what I wrote in the first post on the matter and discussed in more general terms in another post – that people pick an ideological side on matters like this and employ whatever post-hoc rationalisations they need to convince themselves of that position. I freely admit I’ve done the same in this h debate – to me, as to most, it just seems obvious which side is in the right, and that’s a sure sign of ideological knee-jerk. The difference is that my position has some weight of philosophical and legal precedent and linguistic and geographic fact behind it, not just settler ideology.

The column is not pure rehash, though – it’s got some new hash thrown in for good measure, and none of it any more useful than the first lot. It is the canard that by changing a European name back to a Māori name the former is somehow “obliterated” or “expunged” from history. The very examples Chris gives to support this absurd contention disproves it, and moreover it shows the naked settler racism of the position.

Names are important, and to his credit Chris does not succumb to the smug `haven’t those maaris got more important things to worry about’ rhetoric, hoever he over-eggs his pudding a bit here. If, on its own, changing a name genuinely did obliterate and expunge it from history and this was a necessarily bad thing, then Chris ought for consistency’s sake to form a club to protect Beaulieu, Bewley and Baldie Roads, in danger of being so obliterated and expunged by the nefarious newcomer Bowalley Road. The fact is that those names have not been lost – they have faded from common usage but remain a part of the fabric of local culture, to be remembered and celebrated, as they are. If the change goes ahead, nobody except the fearmongers such as Trotter and Laws are suggesting that all historical references to Wanganui be struck from the records, or that a great terminology purge be conducted. The name and the fact of its usage for a century and a half will stand in the documentary record, as it ought to. The generations currently living here will mostly go on using Wanganui, and even many businesses will not bother to change their stationery, out of a dogged loyalty to the identity or out of simple inertia.*

Instead of mourning the loss of Beaulieu, Bewley and Baldie, Chris lionises the upstart Bowalley Road in the very name of his blog. This reveals that Chris accepts that some names have more intrinsic value than others, and on this point I agree with him. Where we disagree is on the basis by which we determine which of an exclusive pair of names should take precedence over the other, a simple matter of logic which I covered in the first post.

Now for the racism: having accepted that some names have more value than others, and having chosen to privilege the colonial name over the traditional name, Chris and others like him essentially say “the settler tradition is more valuable and important than the Māori tradition”. If the case were a marginal one, or if there were two equal competing claims, this would be fair enough – I’m not suggesting that all or even most names ought to be Māori names by right – but in a case where there is a clearly and obviously correct name which isn’t being used in preference to a clearly and obviously incorrect name, the implied statement changes from “the settler tradition is more important than the Māori tradition” to become “settler mistakes are more important than the Māori tradition”, which is much more pejorative. It essentially says “our ignorance is worth more than your identity”, and that, right there, is colonialism in a nutshell.

The battle will be an fierce one, and the troops are massing. The NZGB has signalled that numerical advantage – `preponderance of community views’ – isn’t enough to prevent the change, but it also grants significant weight to those views. In a bald attempt to strengthen their crude majoritarian argument before the NZGB, the Wanganui District Council (which, oddly, will not have to change its name even if the city name changes) has decided to seek a legal opinion on the NZGB’s decision, and to hold another referendum on the spelling of the name. As if there is such a thing, they plan to “conduct a neutral information campaign” on the matter beforehand, though it isn’t clear how they plan on ensuring even a fig-leaf of neutrality – will the council (who voted against the change) argue the sans-h case while Te Runanga o Tupoho (who brought the petition to the NZGB) argues the h case? Will the council pretend it can be neutral on this matter? And what is the purpose of an information campaign anyway, when they, better than anyone else, know that this isn’t a matter of logical, dispassionate assessment of facts and history – it’s a matter of picking sides. I watch the carrion birds circling with interest.

L

* Incidentally, the Wanganui Chronicle had a good laugh at itself and its readership on April 1 with a front-page story announcing that the name would be changed to the Whanganui Chronicle. Good on them! A few days later the editorial apologised to all those who had been taken in, saying that they’d thought the story too absurd to be believable.

Fear itself

datePosted on 20:37, February 28th, 2009 by Lew

Chris Trotter seems to think I’m being culturally precious and pandering to Māori separatism with my post on the h issue. He misses the point, and fearmongers about vague Orewa-like shadows of a savage threat to the settler way of life.

While it did a lot of describing, the purpose of the post was not descriptive, (is) but normative (ought). The question was not whether Wanganui has become the de facto and de jure name of the town; it manifestly has, a fact I acknowledge by using that spelling throughout that post and this one.* The question was whether those who made it so had the right to make it so, and whether they have the right to keep it so against the will of those who retain rights to the name and its usage – rights granted in principle (but not necessarily enforceable in law) by the Treaty of Waitangi.

Chris seeks to derail this by reference to the changing nature of language, but his example hardly addresses the point, far from invalidating it. The `ought’ I’m arguing is that those with a legitimate historical, linguistic and cultural claim to a name – nobody disputes that they do – which forms a core aspect of their whakapapa and regional identity and who have been actively working to maintain that name for generations should not have that claim summarily invalidated by the whim of a majority whose sole attachment to the word is the ignorance of colonial hegemony – wanting to control whatever aspect of the local culture they can for fear of their own insecure identity. The Bowalley Road example, while interesting, is fundamentally different from the case in point for two reasons: first, it is a name which was attached to a place by individual fiat rather than from long-established common usage; and second, nobody seems to care that it has been changed. My argument rests firmly on both these considerations, and they lend it legitimacy: if it were a made-up name, and if nobody cared, my claim would clearly be invalid. The proponents of retaining the current spelling also appeal to both these grounds for legitimacy, so the question is not which of the two causes is legitimate – it is which of the two spellings should take primacy over the other. Who gets to exercise cultural control – rangatiratanga – over the name? Its originators, whose regional and whakapapa identity is tied to in it, at whose pleasure the original Pākehā settlement was founded, and who have since been systematically excluded from its affairs to the point where they are now outsiders on their own historical lands; or the settlers, whose cultural and linguistic dominance is already evident in myriad ways, who are responsible for the marginalisation of the tangata whenua, and who fight tooth and nail against every attempt at reconciliation or reparation unless it is on their terms and their terms alone. The two claims to primacy have the same grounds in principle – it’s just that the grounds of one are stronger than the grounds of the other.

The second part of Chris’ article is worse, though, because rather than misunderstanding the point and its arguments, he misstates the cause and repeats a divisive propaganda line about the dangers of allowing the natives to exercise any authority. Although Chris might not agree, this kite about the Māori radicals in the closet just waiting for their moment to disrupt the nice harmonious race relations we have in NZ is not too dissimilar from that flown by Don Brash five years ago at the Orewa Rotary Club. Let me deal with the two paragraphs in turn:

What’s more, Ken Mair’s demand that the pre-colonial appellation be restored is, I strongly suspect, part-and-parcel of a much more ambitious plan to reclaim his people’s sovereignty over the entire region. To do that, however, Ken and his people would have to fight the colonial wars of conquest all over again – this time emerging as the winners.

Why didn’t we see through their nefarious plan?

1. Change the name.
2. ?????
3. Declare the Mairist Republic of Whanganui.
4. Profit!

The assertion is beyond preposterous; comparing it to the Underpants Gnome business model almost does the model a disservice.

The goals of tino rangatiratanga ceased to be cession/secession, revolution and mass reoccupation by force generations ago. Tangata whenua – and particularly those of the Whanganui region – have embraced the legitimate governmental and judicial processes at their disposal, so much so that one of their daughters is a minister in the current government.

So perhaps the “grasping settlers” Lew condemns are smarter than he is willing to admit. Perhaps they see right through Ken’s seemingly harmless demand that the spelling of the city’s name be changed. Perhaps, by resisting this little challenge today, the Wanganui District Council and its Mayor can avoid resisting much more dangerous challenges tomorrow.

I never condemned the settlers as stupid – I freely admit that they’re not; they have very smartly and efficiently suppressed almost all Māori resistance, to their great advantage. I condemned their actions and attitudes as unjust and counterproductive in the long term. Chris’ whole argument here begs the question that there’s a race war on, and this is the fundamental assertion that the logic of Orewa and of the iwi/kiwi billboards and of the underclass and the warrior gene expects us to accept – for without it, the edifice crumbles. The entire assumption rises from that same grasping settler mentality I identified – fear of the other, fear of scarcity, fear of losing control, the constant feeling of being embattled and under siege and somehow insecure.

If one accepts – and there is copious evidence for this – that there is no intractable race war, and Māori no longer want to fight, but to retain rangatiratanga over the things they still have, and gain control – mostly symbolic, rather than material – over a tiny fraction of what they lost, there’s no argument to be had here. Work with them, rather than against them, treat in good faith and look to the future, and the future begins to look a whole lot brighter.

Today, 28 February, is the anniversary of the 1995 occupation of Pakaitore, the grounds upon which the Wanganui District Courthouse stands, known formerly as Moutoa Gardens in honour of the `loyal Māoris’ who defended the settlement against a Hauhau assault at Moutoa Island in 1864. The occupation lasted nearly three tense months during which the settlers thought their town had been invaded – my wife’s cousin phoned from London in the middle of the night to make sure she wasn’t in any danger; of course, she wasn’t because there was no violence beyond the usual which happened between the Rutland and Commercial Hotels. The occupation centred upon the claim that the land had been expropriated by the city, not sold by tangata whenua. On this same day in 2007, the Māori Land Court returned the block to iwi, who now receive a rental from the Ministry of Justice, whose courthouse continues to operate undisturbed. The land remains publicly accessible to all, although the statue of John Ballance no longer stands. Today, in the wind and rain, there were tents set up selling fry bread and hāngi and raw fish and home-grown veges and artwork; people standing around talking and kids playing. Ken Mair was there; he doesn’t know me and I’m just about as white as can be, but he greeted me warmly and bid me welcome and we chatted for a moment. There was a big tino rangatiratanga flag, but no chest-thumping or politicking or nationalistic fervour – it was a marketplace, on the site of a historical marketplace. The only problem was that there were hardly any white folk there, and those who were there looked guilty and suspicious, like they thought they were trespassing. The people selling the raw fish were embarrassed that they had trouble producing change for a $20 note. A girl of about seven wanted to know where I was from, and when I told her `Wellington, but I grew up here’, she asked `why don’t you live in Wanganui any more?’ What’s needed, and wanted, is more understanding, not the entrenchment of colonial ignorance or its endorsement as a valid way of life.

So, Chris, beyond the vague shadows of Orewa, what `dangerous challenges’ might the latter-day settlers of New Zealand face if they allow tangata whenua a bit of symbolic and linguistic authority over their own names and history?

L

* I use the spelling `Wanganui’ because this spelling currently has primacy. While I believe the spelling should be `Whanganui’, it’s not good enough to just have it become the de facto spelling. In order to recognise rangatiratanga, it must be made official – ariki ki te ariki, tangata ki te tangata.

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