Tag Archives: Raymond Nairn

Insensitive and hypersensitive

In the Insensitivity and hypersensitivity paper I referred to previously, Raymond Nairn and Timothy McCreanor studied submissions to the Human Rights Commission in response to the Haka Party Incident in which He Taua, including one Hone Harawira, broke up an offensive Auckland University engineering school mock-haka (this is poorly documented on the internets, but see here). They found that Pākehā responded by conceding that while the students may have been insensitive, He Taua were hypersensitive. This was and remains the default mode of rationalising race relations incidents in NZ: no matter whether it’s having their haka mocked or their Foreshore and Seabed nationalised, those Māoris are always complaining about something.

The insensitive-hypersensitive contrasting pair is a victim-blaming technique: the assertion that while we may have been insensitive, they are hypersensitive. This is presented as a concession but is in fact an attack which minimises the ‘insensitive’ party’s wrongdoing and magnifies the other party’s ‘hypersensitivity’ as a character flaw:

The term ‘hypersensitive’ carries a psychological load for which there is no parallel in ‘insensitivity’. Insensitivity is represented as deriving from ignorance; as such it can be dispelled by information. It is to be regarded as transitory, incidental, and non-deliberate. From a state of insensitivity an individual can act in ways similar or identical to those who are malevolent but is less culpable because a plea of ignorance can be made in mitigation.
In contrast, hypersensitivity is represented as deriving from emotional sources and is thus internally mediated. Such psychological phenomena are seen as part of the person’s nature and are not easily accessible to adjustment. Hypersensitivity is thus regarded in the same way as aggression, introversion and other personal characteristics. […] The association of hypersensitivity with emotion and indeed with extremes of emotion facilitates the marginalising of the actions and beliefs of people so labelled in ways which removes them from serious contention in social debate.

… and it’s ‘Warrior Gene’ all over again. Moreover, the common lexical root of the terms produces a false equivalence which amplifies this imbalance:

Blaming both sides, albeit one more than the other appeals to readers’ commonsense lore. […] It doesn’t matter that the unequal weighting of the ideas of hypersensitivity and insensitivity prejudices the judgement.

The sweet irony of this device is that, where there is a genuine imbalance of offence perpetrated by one group against another, it requires the offending group to be both insensitive to their own actions, and hypersensitive to the response of the group against whom the major offence was given. So it is with Hone Harawira’s deeply foolish, divisive and unhelpful comments of late: Pākehā New Zealand took hypersensitive umbrage at the terminology while insensitively ignoring the much greater offence caused by the repeated injustices visited upon Māori. I do not defend Harawira; the purpose is only to illustrate that this remains very much the standard means of reasoning around such incidents.

And so it is with Phil Goff, who played the insensitive/hypersensitive Pākehā role to the hilt in his response to Harawira, and has compounded that ill-considered reactionary stance by extending the narrative to the Foreshore and Seabed and the māori party’s decision to coalesce with National. This implies that Labour still thinks that Māori were unreasonable to object to the mass nationalisation of resources to which they had a legitimate claim in law, and that by cutting loose and forming another party they had somehow given greater offence to Labour than the original nationalisation had justified.

The message from Goff’s Labour party is loud and clear: we make no apologies for the decisions taken while being chased by the Brash Iwi/Kiwi monster, and are now prepared to do it all again if need be. This is a damned shame for the country, and for the party. Labour had a great opportunity to mend its bridges with Māori, as the māori party is burdened with an appalling ETS and its more and more fraught partnership with National — and instead of doing so they set another charge and detonated it. The Māori electorate will not support a Labour party which has declared itself the party of blue-collar Pākehā rednecks who are sick of ‘those Māoris’ and their complaining about things which happened the century before last. Where will they go? What will Labour do without them?


Goff is the new Brash

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.