Following my recent post on charter schools and the Canterbury education restructure I received an email from Alwyn Poole, principal of the private Mt Hobson Middle School, disagreeing with my assessment. The ensuing discussion was good, so I’ve posted it here with Alwyn’s agreement. (Below the fold).
At the risk of courting Pablo’s disappointment, I’m descending briefly from lofty theoretical heights to make a few rather rambly observations about two new examples of ‘ethnographic’ reality television in New Zealand: How the Other Half Lives and Are You My Tribe? (both of which screen on TV One, Monday nights).
First, the similarities: Both shows follow a pretty well-established format popularised most thoroughly by Louis Theroux: ‘gonzo anthropology’ for the television audience. Both are journeys of discovery undertaken by middle-aged celebrities who have made their names and reputations by being all-round Kiwi blokes — former All Black Marc Ellis and broadcaster Mikey Havoc. Both have enthusiastically embraced their ignorance of those aspects of life in New Zealand which form their shows’ subject matter. Both possess the superficial characteristic required for such an endeavour: the ability to establish and maintain rapport with people whilst simultaneously objectifying them; or, put another way, the ability to make the objectification not seem quite so objectionable.
In HTOHL Ellis is explicitly using his status as a cultural elite to investigate defined sub- or counter-cultures within New Zealand society. In AYMT Havoc uses the same cultural elite status to gain entry to te Ao MÄori in an attempt to make up for 38 years of having (as one NgÄi TÅ«hoe kaumatua put it) not bothered. Both Havoc and Ellis speak to — and for — ordinary PÄkehÄ middle-class New Zealand; that swathe of folk who are, by any objective definition, in charge of the country economically, politically and culturally; and who yet harbour considerable uncertainty about whether they are or not. There’s an unselfconscious normative aspect to this; HTOHL’s blurb declares that Ellis “reckons he’s pretty normal” but in the show “he jumps the fence of normality”; the word ‘other’ is even in the show’s title. AYMT pointedly started with the most ‘scary’ iwi for its first show, which went to some lengths to emphasise TÅ«hoetanga as a distinguishing characteristic. So the clear subtext of both shows is to firm up that shaky sense of cultural identity by emphasising the fact that the cultural objects of his investigation — those, by definition, with a strong and distinctly-articulated identity — are on the margins, outside society’s norms and not really wholly accountable to them. The screening of the two shows back-to-back is a bit troublesome here; I’m vaguely disturbed by the equation of MÄori with the sort of fringe subcultural ‘others’ which are the objects of Ellis’ investigations — Neo-Nazi survivalists, witches, born-again Buddhists and so on.* One of the key things the last few decades should have taught Aotearoeans of all hues is that MÄori aren’t just another fringe group.
So much for the similarities. There are some pretty fundamental differences between these two shows, which are also emphasised by their consecutive timeslots. The first and most obvious of these is the specific objects and the host’s relationship to them. Ellis is lighthearted and superficial; he’s more interested in the gonzo than in cultural engagement, and the choice of fringe subcultures as his objects permits him to be flippant and dismissive when it suits. Havoc, playing for much higher stakes, doesn’t have this luxury: he can’t treat his objects as cultural curiosities or as a freakshow. He has to take his objects seriously, and this requires him to engage more deeply and more honestly with them than Ellis does, to put more of himself on the line, drawing more out from the objects of his investigation.
That difference gives rise to the second major difference: the presence and extent of judgement as to life according to ‘other’ norms. The heart of programming like this — and of comparative ethnography in general — is in the carefully-contained judgement of the investigator. The point is to examine the cultural fronts, where norms butt up against each other; and the key attribute of a host isn’t so much to be a jovial wise-cracking ‘good bloke’, it’s to do so whilst gaining genuine insight into where the cultural fronts lie, how they might be negotiated, and indeed whether it’s possible to negotiate them. This is a pretty rare quality; one which Louis Theroux has in spades and which permits him to make such eye-opening television: the objects of his investigation don’t feel like they’re being objectified. As a rule they are disarmingly frank, and sometimes frighteningly so. Theroux achieves this sort of dynamic by carefully constraining his judgement, but not abandoning it altogether. Theroux asks the question which needs to be asked and holds his own cultural ground, but does so in a way which does not threaten or attack his objects. Theroux refuses to become complicit in admiring whatever edifices of self-delusion his objects erect, but also does not make it his business to tear them down.
For all that Havoc exhibits maudlin and faintly embarrassing envy for the strong and rooted sense of identity possessed by NgÄi TÅ«hoe (honestly, how many generations will it take for people to realise that being PÄkehÄ is not the absence of culture; it is a culture in and of itself!), he enters into the discourse in good and robust faith to find out what that identity is, and what it tells him about his own. His aim is not to disabuse them of their stranger notions, but nor is it just to impassively observe. Havoc puts himself in uncomfortable situations (such as powhiri and a raucous kitchen-table drinking session) but does not relinquish his own cultural ground, finding ways to ask the question — like addressing the fact that one in four young MÄori end up in prison, and asking “how is ‘exclusive’ different from ‘racist’?” — and expecting good answers, without alienating those who must provide them.
Ellis, on the other hand, is not required to do anything more than the superficial, so he doesn’t. He exhibits a much stronger sense of his own identity than than Havoc does, but there’s almost nothing of it in the programme. His own reality is never challenged: the cultural front never emerges because instead of engaging and standing firm on his own ground, he withdraws into jocular trivialities, avoiding the conflict which is necessary for this sort of exercise. Discomfort is limited to banalities like sitting through three-hour chanting ceremonies and sleeping rough in the bush. He gets through the entire first episode of this season with Kyle Chapman, former leader of the National Front and probably New Zealand’s best-known neo-Nazi, without once initiating discussion about the ideological and racist foundations of Chapman’s Survive Club. What’s more, when one of the club members talks about how the ‘maaris’ — and NgÄi TÅ«hoe in particular — are the leading threat to New Zealand’s civil society, he fails to ask the question (in fact, judging by a posting on Survive Club’s website it seems that not being a “media hate monger” was part of the deal.) It takes a special sort of obliviousness to not remark on the irony of a group of racial-supremacist armed wannabe commandos training for the coming apocalypse in a remote part of the Southern Alps who think some other group are the real threat.
You don’t get to be Louis Theroux without asking that question.
* I can certainly see the counter here: TÅ«hoe training camps; rongoa MÄori and modern religions like Hauhau and Ratana.
Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows, and so it is that Chris Trotter finds common cause with Peter Cresswell in selectively revising the story of NgÄi TÅ«hoe to frame them up as our very own Khmer Rouge, and the Tino Rangatiratanga movement as the mortal enemy of civil society as we know it. I do not seek to defend Te Kooti and his followers: it’s not necessary to do so to abhor the brutality of the Crown response. But even that isn’t the point of this post: I’ve covered that ground before. The point is that their reading is anitithetical to the ongoing development of a peaceful and modern Aotearoa.
Both frame up the Crown position as a matter of swordright — TÅ«hoe ‘picked the wrong side’ in their war and were justly punished for it. Should have been punished more. Both Chris and Peter seem to be of the view that the Crown would have been entirely justified in leaving not one stone upon another, not one man, woman or child alive. And more than a century later, based on their own (conveniently one-eyed) assessment of incidents surrounding Te Kooti’s succour in Te Urewera, they argue that TÅ«hoe still deserve whatever they get: nothing if they’re bloody lucky. Frankly, I expect this sort of thing from permanent-state-of-jihad Objectivists; not so much from an actual historian claiming the mantle of a peace-loving social democrat.
Because the end justifies the means, you see. The brutal and systematic dispossession and wholesale slaughter of MÄori throughout Aotearoa was perhaps unfortunate, but necessary in ‘civilising’ the uncivilised hordes of savages found here by the noble white man of 1840. I asked Chris a while ago whether he thought 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. He responded by saying I was “not mentally wired for this sort of historical argument.” But I guess I have a fuller answer now.
These are people who claim to want to ‘move on’ from our colonial history, for Aotearoa to become ‘one nation’. But doing so on the basis of swordright cannot result in a nation of two people joining together as ‘iwi tahi tatou’, but of one people who set the rules and another who live by them; the former wielding the righteous sword of civilisation, the latter’s efforts to work with the former rather than under them cut down by it, and even their efforts to work within the rules viewed with eternal suspicion and distrust. This is beyond misery — it is ignorant, paranoiac hatred and fear of ghosts long passed which has brought these two bedfellows together. Just don’t think about the offspring they might bear.
Update: Fresh approval from PC.
(Image, “Road to Hell”, stolen from Alexander West.)
And I did not mean to shout, just drive
Just get us out, dead or alive
The road’s too long to mention, Lord, it’s something to see
Laid down by the Good Intentions Paving Company
John Key’s government is starting to play for keeps after a year and a bit warming up. There have been a few clear examples of this, including the aggressive tax and service cuts in Budget 2010, and signs pointing to privatisation in the not-too-distant future. Less orthodox is the recent hardening of the government’s position on take MÄori.
Key was not punished for his calculated snub of TÅ«hoe, and it seems the success has emboldened him to flip the bird to an even larger MÄori audience, saying two things: that MÄori can take or leave the government’s public domain proposal for the Foreshore and Seabed; and that by “MÄori” he means “the mÄori party”. It’s these things I want to discuss, and they need a bit of unpacking.
Pragmatism and principle
Conventional wisdom on the Left is that Key’s blowing off MÄori is (either) paying the red-neck piper, or a genuine manifestation of his (and the government’s) own racism. I think it’s neither and a bit of both. On the second bit, I accept that the National party’s history on MÄori issues is broadly racist inasmuch as it hangs on a “one law for all” rhetorical hook whilst systematically opposing measures which safeguard the equal application of those laws to MÄori, but I think this is down to the casual racism of privileged ignorance rather than the malicious anti-MÄori sentiments of Orewa. Key’s politics, I am convinced, consist of a thick layer of pragmatism on a thin frame constructed of a few very strong principles. The principles are not the bulk of his politics, but they strictly delineate the extremes of what he will and won’t accept. Fundamentally on cultural issues he’s a pragmatist, and doesn’t much care either way as long as he’s getting his. But there is a solid core there which is only so flexible, and changing the ownership status of huge tracts of land (whether by Treaty settlement in the case of Te Urewera or by nationalisation in the case of the Iwi Leadership Group’s suggestion regarding privately-owned sections of the Foreshore and Seabed) is too much of a flex. There are good principled reasons for National to oppose such a scheme, and for this reason I don’t think he’s pandering to the redneck base so much as preserving what he perceives to be the National Party’s immortal soul: cultural conservatism and the maintenance of material property rights. Although I broadly disagree with the reasons, and the decisions, I wish that Labour had done as much to preserve its own immortal soul in 2004 and 2005.
“One law for all”
While I’m on record opposing a “public domain” resolution of the Foreshore and Seabed because it’s a solution of convenience rather than one born of any deep consideration of the issues in play, I have a little more time for Mark Solomon’s suggestion that if MÄori are to give up nascent property rights to the takutai moana, those already holding such property rights ought to be obliged to do the same. I’m not convinced by arguments from PC and DPF to the contrary. PC’s argument, that iwi and hapÅ« ought to have full common-law recourse to test their claims as permitted by the Court of Appeal ruling in favour of NgÄti Apa has more merit than DPF’s, but I still consider it a poor option since there is a high likelihood of a culturally and politically repugnant outcome which would lack durability and further inflame racial hatred. Contrary to DPF’s claim that Solomon’s position is unprincipled, Tim Watkin argues that it’s actually a pretty good representation of “one law for all”. It would ensure that existing landowners — most of whom happen to be PÄkehÄ — are not grandfathered into a new scheme simply by virtue of having bought land which may or may not have been legitimately acquired from whomever it was bought, while iwi and hapÅ« — who happen to be exclusively MÄori — are forced to give up their rights. I argued much the same thing a few days ago, and I’m pleased to see someone else thinking along the same lines. While the whole Foreshore and Seabed going into public domain is worse than Hone Harawira’s proposal that the land be vested in customary title with ironclad caveats because it strips away rights rather than granting them, it does have the advantage of stripping those rights equally, rather than on the basis of largely racial discrimination.
There is another, economic, point in play: if land not presently in private ownership is placed in the public domain and declared inalienable, the increased value of those few freehold, fee-simple property rights which do exist at present will have a phenomenal distortive effect on the property market and on New Zealand’s social structure, with the inevitable result that almost every scrap of it will end up in foreign ownership. We will then have the perverse and incoherent result that most of the beaches will be owned in common — but those which aren’t will be the exclusive domains of ultra-wealthy foreigners. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is a fair point for debate, but I think this fact will grant Solomon’s proposal considerable appeal to the broader New Zealand public, especially among those who do not — and even at present prices, could never — own waterfront property.
Just who are these “MÄori”, anyway?
As I noted above, Key has been clear that he cares not a whit for the Iwi Leadership Group’s views on the matter: he considers that the mÄori party has a mandate to negotiate for all MÄori and the decision is theirs. This is strictly almost correct: they do have a such a mandate, and whatever they decide will be broadly regarded as legitimately representing “MÄori”, to the extent that the decision accords broadly with the views of MÄori as expressed by their various civil society agencies. This proviso, missing from Key’s glib assessment of the political situation, is crucial. By omitting it, Key aims to drive a wedge between the party and those civil society agencies — chief among them the Iwi Leadership Group convened for this very purpose — from whom they ultimately derive their electoral mana. The mÄori party, frequent howls of “sellout!” from the Marxist left notwithstanding, do regularly test their policy positions against these stakeholder groups, at hui, and in their electorates. This makes them particularly secure in terms of their support, as long as they act in accordance with their supporters’ wishes. I have long criticised the howlers for misunderstanding just what it is that the mÄori party stands for, and their mischaracterisation of the party — plump buttocks in the plush leather seats of ministerial limousines, representing “big brown business” — is similarly a wedge, of a slightly different hue. But this issue is the test. Without the support of the Iwi Leadership Group, it’s hard to see how the mÄori party could maintain its claim to a mandate.
Which brings me to the verse at the top of this post. This issue has deteriorated to the point that the National government — like the Labour government before it — issuing public ultimatums to MÄori and prejudging the case by claiming to speak for the mÄori party’s position. That is not mana-enhancing for a coalition partner which has showed enormous patience and swallowed almost innumerable dead rats in exchange for largely symbolic concessions. This breakdown of diplomacy on its own is not sufficient to call time on the coalition relationship — that comes down to the merits of the choices available, and the proposal simply isn’t enough. I have long defended this approach on the basis that the big issues were still to play out — but the loyalty and commitment shown by the mÄori party, in the teeth of furious criticism from enemies and allies alike, must be rewarded. A Whanau Ora pilot programme simply isn’t enough. This road was paved with good intentions, and there was a chance it would lead elsewhere than where it did — a chance which had to be taken but which, barring a swift change in the government’s position, seems to have proven unfounded.
If the government holds to its ultimatum, the mÄori party must turn around and walk back into the light. On this I agree with Rawiri Taonui (audio). The party will lose much more by abandoning its people and agreeing to a Faustian bargain than by simply failing to negotiate the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act, which realistically was a nearly impossible task in any case. And even if the party did support the bill, it would not mean the end of the struggle. As Taonui says, although they might have the numbers to pass the legislation, the government’s solution will have no legitimacy or durability in practice without the support of the ILG and those it represents. Where there is injustice, resistance will seep out around the edges. If the issue of the takutai moana remains live, the party can continue to advocate for a just and enduring solution, and the ILG’s proposed solution opens a potential route for re-engagement with the Labour party. All is not lost.
The big question — as I asked in r0b’s excellent thread the other day is: what will Labour do?
They can sit back and say â€œI told you soâ€ to the mÄori party, hoping they will fold, or they can make a better offer and hope the mÄori party will become more inclined to work with them. I can see how either would be a reasonable tactical position in terms of electoral numbers, even though the former course of action would continue the erosion of Labourâ€™s historically liberal and MÄori support. But thereâ€™s also a real danger the party will do neither, or will attempt to do both and fail at doing either, such as by arguing that the FSA was actually not that bad after all. That would be a tragedy.
The whole world’s watching. I have to say Shane Jones, who the party desperately needs if it is to have credibility on this issue, hasn’t helped dispel the predominant impression of MÄori politicians held by the New Zealand public.
“John Key has made a meal out of ongoing Treaty negotiations with NgÄi TÅ«hoe, remarking at dinner with representatives from neighbouring iwi NgÄti Porou that if he were in TÅ«hoe country, it would be him on the menu. TÅ«hoe have found his comments hard to swallow, with lead negotiator Tamati Kruger saying the remark was in “poor taste.” Others believe the gag should be taken with a grain of salt, as a self-deprecating reference to the roasting Key has received since ruling out the return of Te Urewera National Park. The decision has soured iwi relations with the government, and effectively put negotiations on the back burner.”
(Some artistic license employed, but I’ve seen each of these puns in bona fide media coverage over the past 24 hours.)
Update: It seems nobody other than ak and I have the stomach for a pun-fest. Oh well.
Still, better to remain silent than engage in the shrieking, confused and exploitative orgy of idiotude on display at The Standard. Its only meaningful distinction from the response of the KBR seems to be the lack of ginga jokes. And the comments are a bit shorter. A shame, because there was some reasonable sense from both posters and commentariat on this topic yesterday.
“The good news is that I was having dinner with Ngati Porou as opposed to their neighbouring iwi, which is Tuhoe, in which case I would have been dinner,” [Key] said, “which wouldn’t have been quite so attractive.”
Now, a reference to cannibalism in any leader’s speech is bad enough, but joking about it in the context of the government’s betrayal of TÅ«hoe, and Key’s failed attempt to speak for the mÄori party regarding that betrayal would be absurd if it wasn’t so insulting. Not only that, but the reference to NgÄti Porou was all the worse, given the complex history of those two iwi, which was also in the news recently but of which Key appears to have no awareness.
Two main questions occur to me: first was this a calculated move to distance himself and the government from the sense he has “gone native”, or just an idiotic off-the-cuff remark? (Essentially: bad will, or just incompetence?) And second, what will it take to prevent the mÄori party from walking away? As Marty Mars says, this is a significant matter of the mana of TÅ«hoe, and the mana of MÄori in general. It cannot just be left to lie: either the mÄori party walks away, or some sort of meaningful reparation — you might call it “mana enhancement” — must be offered by the government, not only to TÅ«hoe and the party, but to MÄori in general. The mÄori party are in a tough spot; as I argued yesterday, MÄori don’t have the luxury of just throwing their toys whenever they don’t get their way. But something has got to give.
Oh, and as per PÄkehÄ Standard Operating Procedure on issues like this, wait for the MÄori response to be declared hypersensitive.
Update: Same being asked by Lynn at The Standard.
Update (20:25) Much has become clear since I wrote the post. Some updated thoughts follow.
First, it’s clear that this wasn’t an inadvertent, casual comment — it was, if not a planned and sanctioned statement then clearly a calculated one intended, after apparently growing discord at the Lower North Island National party conference this weekend past, to win Key and the government back some of its reputation for driving a hard bargain with MÄori, and for not being a PC pounamu-wearing hand-wringer. So the initial diagnosis is “bad will” rather than “incompetence”. This was a simple continuation of the negotiative process which Key chose to stall by unilaterally ruling out the return of Te Urewera National Park; Key providing an opening for TÅ«hoe to continue dialogue, or not.
Second, it’s pretty well-calculated. It would have been easy for TÅ«hoe (and others) to publicly overreact and confirm PÄkehÄ New Zealand’s worst instincts about them. It would also have been easy for the mÄori party to walk away from the coalition deal, and I do think this is another factor in favour of that course of action. But they haven’t done so. Tamati Kruger’s response that the joke was “not funny, in poor taste and unbecoming of a prime minister” is pretty strongly-worded but shows its own sort of gallows-humour, indicating that Kruger (seasoned negotiator that he is) understands the game being played, and is prepared to continue playing it, given some caveats. Having today said that Key had lost his nerve Kruger has held his. He was magnanimous and humorous when speaking to John Tamihere and Willie Jackson about the topic on RadioLIVE this afternoon, but pretty clear that the deal is still to be closed, and it will now take some closing.
Third, Key has publicly insulted both TÅ«hoe and the mÄori party in the past week, and this does still need to be addressed. All parties seem to have chosen to address it around their respective negotiating tables, rather than in public, but behind closed doors these people will be furious at having been so treated, and for all that they’ve gained ground with the redneck street, that’s ground National will need to make up inside the wharenui. To put it in terms Key, as a former currency trader who worked a lot in Asia, would understand: the price of doing business just went up. And it went up quite a lot, because failure to accede to that increase means TÅ«hoe can now justifiably walk away from negotiations which are already almost two years underway, claiming that the negotiating team has no legitimacy, having been unilaterally overruled by their own prime minister, apparently just because he changed his minds. If they do that, expect every other current negotiation to go the same way. That’s an unacceptable political cost for Key before the next election, let alone the one after (by which all outstanding claims are supposed to be settled).
Fourth, a public sense is beginning to build of Key as the one who is endangering the relationship, after the opposite sense developed around Hone Harawira’s comments last year. If the coalition between National and the mÄori party fails, it will be seen as his failure to manage the relationship adequately, and that damages his own master narrative of being an efficient political manager and an all-round nice guy. As marty mars said in another comment on The Standard, the concessions granted to MÄori by Key’s government are “barbed” — they can’t be revoked or withdrawn without sustaining substantial political damage, which means that if the mÄori party sees genuinely irreconcilable differences and an opportunity to dissolve the agreement without being seen as unreasonable, they are able to do so. But as Neil says in the comment thread below, and as I’ve been arguing to little avail for ages, the mÄori party’s best play vis-a-vis either major party is the threat to go with the other. Labour partisans and much of the wider left wish it were not so, but if Labour get a sense that they have a monopoly on the mÄori party’s attentions again, then further concessions will be rare and threadbare.
Fifth, the KBR response is just what you’d expect, complete with gratuitous references to the alleged taste of human flesh, and ginga jokes. Sigh.
Thanks for the discussion so far. Responses to other comments below.