Posts Tagged ‘No Right Turn’

Like a fox?

datePosted on 21:02, March 29th, 2011 by Lew

Lynn at The Standard has a nothing to see here sort of post about how the Darren Hughes scandal isn’t important. True to form, he misses the fact that that the ‘Labour footsoldiers’ for whom he claims the scandal is an irrelevant distraction are the least-important players in this particular game. What matters is the public, and in that regard the views of the media and the ‘beltway creatures’ matter plenty. So while he might be right that it’s a beat-up and there’s nothing in it, that doesn’t really matter — if Labour treats this as a matter of ‘business as usual’ the results will be deservedly catastrophic.

But one thing which struck me while watching the news coverage of the Dunedin stand-ups before and after the front bench meeting today: he looks happy and confident and genuinely at ease; even effusive. As some wag on twitter said: “Phil, leave some kool-aid for the rest of the caucus!” Looks like he did, because the front bench response of solidarity also looks like it’s for real. If you watch it with the sound off, it’s the very model of a party holding a unified front.

The trouble is that what Goff is saying — that his leadership is stronger now than it was before the Hughes scandal broke — is totally barking mad. It simply doesn’t make any actual logical sense that it would be, that it could be. My instinct is that the fact the caucus and the advisers are letting him bark in this way indicates an utter dereliction of duty on the part of the advisers, and a complete lack of political nerve and sense on the part of the caucus. But, as I argued the other day, as bad as Labour is, I don’t think they’re that far gone. So maybe there’s an explanation other than mass political psychosis: maybe he’s banking on this strategy being just barking mad enough to work. This response, for all its other failings, does hint at the Machiavellian characteristic of virtù which I/S (I believe correctly) diagnosed as lacking in Phil Goff’s leadership. It is nothing if not audacious. It is certainly not a ‘business as usual’ response.

So maybe he’s hoping to catch the government on the hop by simply pretending his situation isn’t as dire as it is and hoping that the pretence is infectious. Perhaps it’s actually not pretence; perhaps he really does have that support. Perhaps he’s relying on people ignoring the waffly words and inept deeds and simply taking their cues from the appearance of functionality which Labour is trying to present.

This might not be as far-fetched as it sounds: Lynn does make a good point that people don’t pay close attention to the details; and it’s an old trick to watch political TV appearances with the sound off to get a feel for how a naïve viewer might perceive it and to look more closely at the underlying messages about the political actors and organisations which appear in them.* This sort of presentation of functionality is also a pretty good indicator of eventual success: Drew Westen documents cases where random voters could predict with reasonable accuracy the outcomes of political contests by watching brief segments of silent footage and simply observing the political actors’ nonverbal cues.**

So are they crazy like a fox? Yeah, nah, I don’t really believe it either. The hell I know. Good luck to Phil, and all of them, because they’re going to need it.

So, setting aside the conventional wisdom that Labour is just marching into an electoral abyss, what are your theories as to what they’re up to at present? Wackier the better.

L

* There’s a bit of this sort of analysis done on US political events, such as Sarah Palin’s blood libel speech — see here for example. Though not really the same thing, it’s also worth you googling “breath libel”. Scary.
** I’ve lent my copy of The Political Brain to someone, so I can’t substantiate this at the moment, sorry.

PC priorities

datePosted on 21:06, October 12th, 2010 by Lew

The media beat-up du jour is the non-story of Te Papa Tongarewa “barring” (or “banning”, “forbidding”, other such absolute terms) pregnant and menstruating women from entry due to the nature of some tāonga on display.

Except they’ve done no such thing. The “ban” isn’t actually a restriction at all — they’ve been clear that it’s a request, not an ironclad edict; and in any case, the exhibit isn’t open to the public, but to staff from other museums. It’s an invite-only behind-the-scenes tour. And the crucial point is that the tāonga in question have been given to Te Papa on condition that this advice is given to prospective viewers. Let me be crystal clear: nobody would be barred from attending on the grounds that they are pregnant or menstruating. If someone wanted to turn up and say “bollocks to all of that, me and my unborn child are going to see those taiaha!”, it’s been made clear that she would be permitted to do so. That might be inflammatory and offensive, like farting in church or wearing a bikini to a funeral, but nobody is forbidding it. And that’s as it should be: Te Papa is our place and nobody should be barred outright. If the condition required exclusion, then that would be fair enough on the part of the owners — who can reasonably impose whatever conditions they please — but quite explicitly not ok for Te Papa, who would be better to decline the opportunity outright to maintain its public mandate.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped everyone with a platform from winding up to rage against the imposition of archaic, alien superstitions upon their civil liberties. But almost without exception, the restriction-which-isn’t-really-a-restriction doesn’t apply to them, since — as far as I’m aware — none of those objecting are in fact museum staff who would be eligible for the tour. And amongst this vicarious umbrage there’s an awful lot of squawking about misogyny and imposition of cultural values, and much more uncritical repetition of the misleading language of “bans” and such. It goes as far as idiotic and lurid suggestions about personal searches using sniffer dogs, for crying out loud.

All this has manifested as a soft and rather opportunistic sort of anti-Māori racism, where Māori are the casualties of our sticking up for the rights of pregant and menstruating women. There’s a common implication that they are the oppressive stone-age patriarchy using whatever means they can to victimise our women; and “forcing” their rude barbarian culture into our civilised and noble times. This is understandable from the usual PC gone mad crowd who’ve suddenly — conveniently — found their inner feminist, but somewhat more disappointing from those who would often be described as the hand-wringing PC liberals, people who ought to know better that it is possible to reconcile conflicting cultural values of this sort in an amicable fashion via the standard tools of live-and-let-live liberalism. And while those same hand-wringing PC liberals do rail against the worst excesses of those illiberal institutions which make up mainstream NZ society — chief amongst them the Catholic church — the response to this case has generated anger out of all proportion. Te Papa had to make the decision: take the tāonga on with the advisory condition, or not at all. Perhaps those objecting to this policy would prefer that nothing of this sort ever go on display. There is a genuine cultural conflict here, but it can quite simply be resolved: those pregnant and menstruating women who believe their right to attend trumps the request to the contrary may do so then and there. Not only are they not prevented from doing so by those hosting the tours, they actually have the right to do so should they choose, and that right should be defended. Those who do not may do so at another time which is convenient to them. The tragedy is that for most of the liberals in this battle of PC priorities, women must be given categorical superiority over Māori. They are arguing for their own culture to be imposed across the board; the very illiberalism they claim to oppose.

There are (at least) two people who are making good sense on this matter: Andrew Geddis, whose liberal argument is very close to my own views, but much better formed; and Lynne Pope who, almost uniquely among the bullhorns sounding around this topic, is a Māori woman who’s actually been on the tour in question. Neither of them have lapsed into the myopic, reflexive Māori-bashing which is the most unbecoming aspect of this situation.

The lesson for New Zealand’s liberals is this: it isn’t necessary to trample on the cultural needs of Māori to accomodate the needs of women. Liberalism itself provides tools to reconcile these differences. They just need to be used.

Update 20101018: As usual, Scott Hamilton makes good sense on this topic.

L

Fire in the House

datePosted on 21:17, May 5th, 2010 by Lew

The opposition was strong in Parliament today. I’m stuck for time, so what follows is somewhat stream-of-consciousness.

Front and centre was the government’s failure to perform on unemployment and wage growth, the subject of criticism from both flanks. Bill English had led off with “the budget will be about the many, not the few”, and then “but seriously …”, to a stinging rebuke from David Cunliffe, who listed the government’s failings as he saw them. This adoption by the government of Labour’s own tagline looks like an attempt to muddy the counter-campaign and poach their emphasis, trying to set up National as the party representing “the many”, rather than the policy merits of the government’s program, but if so it’s a fairly ham-fisted one. While “the many” looks on its way to becoming this election cycle’s “hard-working Kiwis”, the government’s attempt here to muscle in indicates that National has accepted Labour’s rhetorical framing, although they disagree with it. If you adopt your opponent’s narrative, you need to be able to make it your own — either that, or you need to dismantle and discredit it. English did neither.

Cunliffe was strong, also raising the variance between English’s aspirational and controversial “Plain English” ad and the policy track he has delivered. Sir Roger Douglas also took aim, and was forced by the Speaker to rephrase the question (to Paula Bennett): “Which is more important? Young people getting jobs, or pandering to the Left?”.

Bennett also took a bit of a pasting on the matter of the identity of one Peter Saunders. The Standard has picked this up so I’ll not elaborate more. Wayne Mapp, standing in for the Minister of Agriculture also stumbled on a line of questioning from Sue Kedgley regarding AgResearch’s GM cattle trials. Not exactly a shock since, not being the minister himself, that information wasn’t top of his mind, but it contributed to the general atmosphere.

Then it was all on in General Debate, with Goff, King and Cunliffe leading off on the same topic matter (jobs/wages) with a couple of fiery speeches, and re-emphasising the “smile and wave/photo-op/government by poll” meme and the retrenchment of the government’s mining plans. Judith Collins concentrated on David Cunliffe’s lack of orthodox economic credibility, and purported concern for Goff having to shoulder the dual burden of leading a party in which Cunliffe was both the finance spokesperson and a leadership contender. Nice concern troll, but what’s more interesting is how much she was looking forward to seeing Cunliffe’s expenses records — and the threats hurled across the House while she thought she was not miked — “You wait, just you wait! …” Some irony in this given that it was just yesterday Collins raised the most threadbare defence of her (or someone else’s) extensive use of the ministerial self-drive car: “All the travel is within the rules – that’s all I’m prepared to say on it.”

So, while superficially an ordinary sort of Wednesday (albeit one where the Member’s Day was not clobbered by urgency), I think this has provided a few glimpses of the 18 months to come: a robust focus on core materialist issues from the Labour party, ahead of the budget, and a clear desire to debate the policy merits; combined with continued attacks on the credibility and perceived competence of English and Bennett in particular; the government attempting to subvert the opposition’s framing rather than exclusively arguing the merits; Collins v Cunliffe shaping up as a key battle. Nothing flash, but it’s starting to look like something resembling a threat. Most importantly, something to require the government to rethink its own gameplan. Until now they’ve had the ability to act almost with impunity, their errors going unpunished. If today’s performance is any indication, no longer.

L

Perspective and colonial counterfactuals

datePosted on 08:55, April 14th, 2010 by Lew

It’s hardly the stuff of rigorous historico-social investigation, but Simon Schama sees much to celebrate in NZ biculturalism — particularly in comparison to our Anglo comparators:

But it’s the story of Maori and pakeha, the settlers of European origin, that – for all the pain, betrayals and suffering – still deserve to be known and celebrated as offering a different model of cultural encounter than anywhere else in the world. […] Of course there have been serious problems of unequal social opportunity, of street gangs. But if there is anywhere in the post-colonial world where two cultural worlds truly live an engaged life alongside each other, it’s in New Zealand.
Such stories don’t come along very often. Cherish them. Chant them. Dance them.
Upane upane, kaupane, whiti te ra! Up the ladder, up the ladder, the Sun Shines.

This is broad-brush stuff, and minimises the genuine grievance and disquiet which exists on both sides of the cultural divide — his “divided no longer” caption to a stock photo is altogether too pat. And his assessment of Paul Holmes as a “tough” and “a reproach to dozy thinking” is marginal at best. But Schama’s observation that what we have in this country is quite unlike any other postcolonial nation is exactly right. It provides a glimpse at what might have been been elsewhere, and what might have been here if the post-Treaty settlement had been undertaken in better faith.

This raises a question Pablo and I discussed in email after he wrote this post (I didn’t want to hijack the excellent discussion there): do those who hate and fear Tino Rangatiratanga and consider the Treaty a “simple nullity” really believe that the people of Aotearoa — of all colours — would be better off if the typical colonial counterfactual were true — if Hobson’s marines and settlers had simply driven the natives into the sea or exterminated them as animals? In my email to Pablo, I wrote:

I’ve often argued (as a wind-up or a devil’s advocate position) that the Māori are ungrateful whingers who don’t appreciate what an incredibly good deal they got from Hobson, and that NZ would have been better off if Europeans had just landed with boatloads of armed soldiers and done to the natives what they did in the rest of the world. Anything for a peaceful life. What’s interesting is that, even when discussing the topic with people who genuinely believe that the Treaty is a gravy train and the natives are taking the piss and actually are ungrateful, they generally balk at this suggestion. That consent [given by the colonised to the colonisers], however fraught and limited, is important to how we see ourselves. That’s one of the reasons I’m generally pretty hopeful about the bicultural future.

I expressed somewhat similar views in comments to this post of Chris Trotter’s a short time later. Neither Chris, nor the other commenter to that post (RedLogix, with whom I’ve had robust but usually cordial disagreements on this topic) responded to my comments, which I took as a sort of confirmation of my thesis.* As I say, this is the usual response to the argument I’ve made many times before — all but the most unrepentant rednecks are repelled by the view that colonialism NZ-style was worse than what might have happened if we’d undertaken it Australian-style. This indicates to me that even for those who are highly critical of it grudgingly accept that the Tino Rangatiratanga movement, Waitangi Tribunal and attendant concessions to Māori in our political and social systems are better than the counterfactual alternative of a white monoculture in the South Pacific, even if it were more peaceful. The importance of this for a bicultural future is profound.

L

* I don’t want to put words in Chris and RL’s mouths, though — it may be that they simply thought my remarks too ridiculous to bother engaging with. Happy to accept clarification on this point.

(Schama article via Tim Watkin at Pundit. Thanks! And as it happens, Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn has excerpted it as well.)

More narrativium

datePosted on 17:50, March 8th, 2010 by Lew

A fortnight ago I wrote a post about how the government’s conduct in office makes them vulnerable to accusations of cronyism and a tendency to be vague about the boundary between the political and the personal. In the past week, two more events have come to light which fit this narrative.

The lesser of the two is former National minister Roger McClay winding up in court for claiming mileage and expenses from his non-profit employer when they were paid for by the parliamentary service. It’s a long time since he was in parliament, but the episode speaks to the character of senior National party members.

More egregious is the decision to appoint former National Deputy Prime Minister Wyatt Creech to stitch up Environment Canterbury, which makes a great one-two punch with the news that they want to appoint former National Prime Minister Jenny Shipley as Commissioner. Thanks to I/S at No Right Turn for joining these dots.

Christchurch Central Labour MP Brendon Burns has made his views pretty plain, and as a consequence, the scrutiny may discourage the appointment. That’s the thing about keeping an eye on cronyism: it enables an opposition to punish a government brutally for both its past and its current misdeeds, and it brings a level of scrutiny from the media and other public agencies which has a chilling effect on further misdeeds. Even aside from the partisan advantages this brings, that’s good for democracy either way. Of course, in order to take full advantage of this narrative, Labour has to come out and actually denounce Taito Phillip Field’s own corruption during his time as a Labour minister. That’d be good for democracy, too.

L

Bhadge

datePosted on 23:12, December 19th, 2009 by Lew

I’ve been very busy again this past week, and so the list of things I want to write about copiously exceeds my ability to write about them. My promised post about internecine disputes is in very early draft form but I’ll try and get it finished soon. I still have a post planned looking at the wider implications of the foreshore and seabed review, but I think that’ll have to wait until after I’ve painted the roof.

yep_im_a_redneck_button-p145980559379977550q37f_400I also wanted to write a lot about the final outcome of the h debate, but find that my views have already been pretty well encapsulated by Andrew Geddis and Idiot/Savant. You should also read Scott Hamilton’s latest on the wider topic of Pākehā separatism.

Given that the decision declares both ‘Wanganui’ and ‘Whanganui’ correct, but mandates crown usage of ‘Whanganui’, there’s as clear an implicit statement as can be that the latter is more correct than the former. This has been clearly understood by TVNZ and Radio NZ, who have adopted the latter usage as a matter of editorial policy. They are owned by the crown, after all, and both just happen to be in direct competition with Laws and his media employer. Permitting both spellings but making this declaration as to primacy was a move as shrewd as it was elegant by Maurice Williamson — similarly to John Key’s decision to permit the flying of a Māori flag if only Māori could agree on one. Michael Laws, Tariana Turia and Ken Mair have all claimed victory, so everyone with an actual stake is nominally happy. The Standardistas and the KBR are furious, which is a pretty good sign. It obviates the strongest symbolic position occupied by Laws, the idea that Wellington is coercing Wanganui into doing its PC bidding. Wellington need not — the rest of the country will do that, because the use of the no-h word will be an identity marker, a statement, like a badge; not quite “Yep, I’m a redneck” but something approaching it. The thing is that Laws and his rump of greying die-hards do not simply face a disorganised and discredited bunch of radical natives; they find themselves standing against the inexorable tide of civil society and its evolution, a youthful and browning population for whom biculturalism is the norm and separatism stopped being cool a generation ago (if it ever was).

Who knew that all Michael Laws wanted for his cause was an emasculating partial endorsement and a prolonged death sentence? He could have saved everyone (and his own reputation) a great deal of trouble by making this plain at the beginning. In other circumstances, I would be angry about everyone having been taken for a ride — but as it stands, I’m mostly just quietly pleased that civil society’s tendency toward self-correction will be left to do its thing.

L

Goff is the new Brash

datePosted on 15:26, November 26th, 2009 by Lew

Perhaps this speech is an attempt by Phil Goff to reclaim the term and concept of “Nationhood” from the clutches of rampant colonialism. If so, it is an abject failure. It compounds Labour’s cynical appeasement of National’s race-war stance in 2003 with a reactionary, resentful re-assertion of the same principles before which Labour cowered in 2004. It is the very epitome of what Raymond Nairn and Timothy McCreanor called “insensitivity and hypersensitivity“. More on this here

I had an incandescent rant underway, but I’ve said it all before. If you refer to the tag archive under the terms “Chris Trotter” and “Michael Laws” you can read most of it — which should give you an idea of the company Goff’s speech deserves to keep. And in the mean time, Idiot/Savant has summed up my thoughts in several thousand fewer words than I would have. I can do no better than to quote him (and please excuse the transitory obscenity in this instance):

This is the same cynical attempt to whip up racism so memorably used by Don Brash at Orewa. I despised it then and despise it now. Goff knows better, just as much as Brash did. But he’s willing to pander to racists to get a short-term boost in the polls, and bugger the long-term damage such pandering does to racial harmony.
Well, fuck him. Racism has no place in our society, and a proper left-wing party would be fighting against it, not engendering and exploiting it for political gain.
[…]
Despite Labour’s dear wishes, the Maori Party is not going to go away. Instead, it looks likely to be a permanent feature of our political landscape. More importantly, it looks to be setting itself up as the swing bloc which makes or breaks governments. That’s certainly likely to be the case at the next election, unless the government really screws up.
What this means is that if Labour wants to regain power, it will have to sit across the table from and work with the Maori Party. And that will simply be impossible if they are running on a racist platform. By following Brash’s path of cheap racism, Labour is alienating the party it desperately needs to win over. And the result may see it locked out of government for far longer than if it had kept its hands clean.

I’m trying very hard to find an image of that “white is the new black” All Whites poster/shirt with which to adorn this post — because that’s what Goff is driving at here: what you thought was colonial paternalism wasn’t, and what you thought was self-determination isn’t. It’s a disgrace.

L

Hōiho trading

datePosted on 11:26, September 15th, 2009 by Lew

So much of Labour and the economic left’s criticism of the māori party and its conduct in government with National is little more than the howling of self-interested Pākehā angry that the natives aren’t comporting themselves in the approved fashion. But in this case, criticism of the māori party’s support for National’s amended ETS is entirely justified — not because it goes against the principles of the labour and environmentalist movements, but because it goes against the māori party’s own stated principles and demonstrated political strategy. Idiot/Savant has a thorough fisking of the differences.

Whereas previous criticisms have mostly been leveled at the māori party for trading away tactical gains against strategic gains (going into government with National; refusing to quit any time National capitalised on its majority; etc), this decision sacrifices the strategic for the tactical, swapping a few relatively token benefits to some industry sectors in which Māori have strong interests and to low-income people among whom Māori are strongly represented, against a huge intergenerational moral hazard by which the general populace will subsidise emitters, robbing the general tax fund of revenue which could otherwise have been channeled into targeted poverty relief and social services, of which Māori are among the most significant consumers. The upshot must surely be the Foreshore and Seabed; but this seems to me a very heavy price to pay for a concession which seemed likely to go ahead in any case.

While the māori party is not — and Māori are not — ‘environmentalists’ in the western conservation-for-conservation’s-own-sake sense, a core plank of their political and cultural identity is rooted in their own kind of environmentalism, and by acceding to an ETS which does not enforce carbon limitations on industry and society, they have put this role in jeopardy and severely weakened their brand and alliances.

There is a silver lining in this for Labour and the Greens, however. The māori party’s deal has prevented Labour from succumbing to a similarly tempting compromise on the ETS, and it can retain its relatively high moral ground. Labour and the Greens now have a clear path on which they can campaign for the 2011 and future elections, a definite identity around which to orient their policies, and the real possibility of significant strengthening of the ETS in the future. Where this leaves the māori party I’m not sure; no doubt those who shout ‘kupapa!’ will be keen to consign them to the annals of history, but I don’t think redemption is impossible — especially if the māori party shepherds the FSA review through to its desired conclusion, it will remain a political force too significant to be ignored.

L

The role of the judiciary is to judge

datePosted on 00:29, July 19th, 2009 by Lew

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over Dame Sian Elias’ remarks about the prison muster. Nevertheless, this is what Chief Justices (and their equivalents elsewhere) do from time to time – make pronouncements about the law and the state of the justice system, which carry no policy mandate but tend to get people talking.

I would note that the speech was much broader and more considered than ‘let the prisoners go free’ as it has been dramatised. But that Dame Sian has made a pronouncement so far out of step with government policy and public consciousness demonstrates either a remarkable sense of personal responsibility for the justice system or a desire to legislate from the bench.

There are three ways to slice it:

  1. The judiciary is right to involve itself in this sort of thing and you agree with the position taken
  2. The judiciary is right to involve itself in this sort of thing and you disagree with the position taken
  3. The judiciary is wrong to involve itself in this sort of thing, and should stay the hell out of wider matters of justice regardless

I’m the first, with Toad and most commenters on Eddie’s post on The Standard. Labour Justice spokesperson Lianne Dalziel is too. In another case I might be the second. Danyl Mclauchlan seems to be either in the first or the second; Idiot/Savant and Bomber are clearly the first; Madeleine Flannagan, herself a lawyer, seems somewhat grudgingly to be in the second camp. Peter Cresswell definitely is.

But it’s tricky; the third is a cover for the second. I think Simon Power and Garth McVicar (along with DPF and some stalwarts of the KBR hang’em-flog’em brigade) are taking the third position for rhetorical purposes when, if they were honest, they’d be defending the right of the judiciary to participate in NZ’s discourse of criminal justice but disagreeing with Dame Sian’s argument in this case – the second position. Dean Knight points out that, when it suits, the government does actually consider the judiciary’s views as integral to justice policy.

If the particulars of the Chief Justice’s speech had been different, I reckon they’d be singing from a songsheet other than the one which reads ‘butt out, you lily-livered liberal panty-waist’. Perhaps the one which reads ‘I disagree with your position but, as the head of NZ’s judiciary, you are entitled to take it’.

The flipside, I suppose, is whether those of us who agree with Dame Sian’s general position today would be supportive of her right to take it if we disagreed. We should be; all of us.

Edit: Andrew Geddis is in the first position; Stephen Franks is in the second.

L

On blog conduct

datePosted on 10:48, February 13th, 2009 by Lew

Or, this is not a democracy, it’s a private residence, get used to it. But we need you, and you apparently need us, so let’s do what we can to get along.

Weblogs and online discussion forums are a type of feedback media, where the published content forms the opening chapter, not the entire story. In feedback media, there are broadly two groups of participants, who I’ll term proprietors and contributors; the former being those who operate the medium and provide its `official’ content, the latter those who participate in the medium by adding their own content. The nature of the relationship between these two groups is critical in determining how the medium functions. This post is a quick examination of how feedback media operate at a theoretical level, a survey of examples, and a rationale for dual-mode gatekeeping, with a view to creating an environment conducive to quality discourse which is largely free of personal feuds and partisan point-scoring.

The Dump Button
Though there are others, the canonical mainstream feedback media are the letters-to-the-editor page and talk radio. In either of those media, a proprietor has the unilateral ability to prevent or limit contributors’ participation – in the case of the newspaper editor, the mechanism is `points noted’; radio hosts have a button with which they can drop a caller between when she starts speaking and when she goes to air – traditionally, this timeframe is seven seconds. Blog proprietors have a range of similar devices at their disposal.

This has important implications when viewed in the light of one of the fundamental pieces of media theory – Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model, which argues that a given text is encoded with meaning by its creator, and that meaning is decoded by the person reading it, who can accept, partially accept or wholly reject the encoder’s frame of reference (not the content; that’s a different matter with which Hall was not largely concerned). In principle, the presence of gatekeeping mechanisms such as those described above means it’s virtually impossible to have a statement published which the proprietor doesn’t want to be there. The logical flipside of this is: if your comment gets published, it’s because the proprietor wants it to be published, and for their own reasons.

Symbiosis
Proprietors of feedback media generally have plenty of reasons for wanting to allow content to be published, the primary one of which is the symbiotic relationship they have with contributors. The nature of the content and the nature of the gatekeeping are the two primary factors which determine the tone of a medium; the former largely because of the contributors it attracts and the latter largely because of the contributors it drives away. When Lindsay Perigo took over from John Banks on his Radio Pacific talk show, many regular callers kept calling because the political content Perigo aired was quite similar. Banks was extremely tolerant of callers who took a while to get to the point – he rarely, if ever, cut people off, and he had a great deal of time for listening to peoples’ stories. Perigo was the opposite; he guided the show much more firmly and did not generally tolerate callers chatting about trivial or mundane matters, and that changed his audience and his contributors. Banks’ loyal callers became quite displeased when Perigo, for instance, dedicated an entire hour of his show to the songs of Mario Lanza, of whom they’d never heard, and became irate when he lost his temper with some of the more elderly callers and began to cut them off for not sticking to the programme or saying anything he considered meaningful. Gradually, the old callers stopped calling and were replaced by a new set: younger, less religious, sharper of tongue, etc.

Gatekeeping Models
Plenty of different gatekeeping models exist in practice. I’ll focus on four which are fairly archetypal. Each creates a different atmosphere.
1. Slashdot. The lunatic asylum model. Members control almost everything. This results in a community which is extremely tolerant of insults, memes, tomfoolery, and has an incredibly low signal to noise ratio.
2. Kiwiblog. The echo chamber model. Content is published by DPF, commented upon by members, who use a karma system and are subject to a demerit system (operated by DPF) which is more theoretical than anything. This results in a sort of groupthink; not because DPF enforces it, but because he allows his commentariat to do so, creating a recursive loop of abuse which deters dissenters from participating. There is an argument that DPF (who’s a thoroughly decent bloke, quite unlike his comment threads) keeps his blog this way in order to make himself look sensible and reasonable by comparison.
3. No Right Turn. The Holy Sepulchre model. Content is published by Idiot/Savant, and that’s what you get. Idiot/Savant took the opposite line to DPF and turned off comments altogether a good long while ago. The result is almost pure signal, very little noise. I/S is frequently referred to by and comments on other blogs to maintain the feedback aspect of his medium.
4. The Standard. The noisy tavern model. Content is posted and comments are moderated by a group of writers, and Lynn Prentice, who tolerates very little of the sort of abuse for which KB is known. In general this results in a more congenial atmosphere, with a wide range of dissenting voices who are usually treated with at least a modicum of respect. However, it still gets pretty heated because there is no clear delineation between content and conveyance.

The Living Room Model
Anita’s model for Kiwipolitico is of a living room in which robust and complex but civil and reasoned discussions take place. This implies rights and responsibilities, and although I’ve only recently moved in (as it were) I shall presume to list a few as I see them. These apply equally to proprietors and to contributors.

* You have a right to be treated as an honourable contributor and to be free from serious personal attacks, abuse or character assassination.
* You have a right to not have your personal or professional life dragged into a discussion unless you allow it, or it is somehow germane to a legitimate matter of debate.
* You have a responsibility to defend and substantiate your arguments and assertions, not to assume that because people here are civil you can get away with a weak argument or unproven claims.
* You have a responsibility to adhere to and enforce these standards of conduct to the extent you are able.

Sir Karl Popper (and others) argued that if a society is perfectly tolerant of any and all behaviour, it must tolerate behaviour which is destructive of toleration itself, eventually leading to a general absence of toleration. This is pretty clearly evident in the Slashdot and Kiwiblog examples above and to a lesser extent in The Standard example, where because of a greater or lesser lack of discipline, much worthwhile discussion is simply drowned out, and the signal to noise ratio drops. The problem is usually not with the arguments, which can be well-reasoned and supported; it is the attacks and epithets which accompany those arguments which deters dissent. Therefore, in order to privilege argument over attacks, the content to be argued and the means by which it is argued need to be treated separately. The living room model requires that there be little or no gatekeeping of argument itself, coupled with strict gatekeeping of the means by which that argument is conveyed – essentially: make what points you choose, but do so in good faith and in accordance with decent norms of conduct and reasoned debate.

The point and purpose of the model is to separate arguer and argument for the purpose of criticism. You should be vulnerable to critique only on the grounds of your arguments, your ideas, or your conduct. Good ideas and arguments, cleanly made and supported by evidence and logic, will thrive here regardless of their ideological bent, but arguments resorting to personal attacks, abuse, absurd hyperbole, rash generalisation or wilful misinterpretation to make a point will perish whether we agree with their premises or not, because these are the signs of a hollow argument which lacks a valid foundation. While you will be sheltered from personal attacks, don’t expect your argument to be sheltered or defended by the proprietors; indeed, we may take great glee in watching it be torn asunder, as long as the tearing is done in a civil, justified and reasoned fashion. Finally, toleration breeds toleration. If you consistently exhibit good character and careful arguments, occasional minor indiscretions may be overlooked. This is a privilege to be earned, and I hope everyone will earn it.

L