Saturday, 8 December 2018

Raining On The White Tribe’s Parade

Santa Who? What sort of woke, politically-correct bubble would you have to be living in to think this was a good idea? Certainly, it is hard to imagine someone with little brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces; someone who remembers mum or dad reading them The Night Before Christmas, or watching The Miracle On 34th Street – or even Bad Santa – being so insensitive, so utterly unaware of the trouble they were about to cause.

WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? The people who decided it would be a good idea to take Santa out of the Nelson Santa Parade?

A South Island city (and a Wakefield settlement to boot!) filled with Pakeha New Zealanders. Who was it who decided that the Thomas Nast/Coca-Cola Santa-Claus, the one which the English-speaking world has taken to its heart for more than a century, could be replaced by a Maori chieftain in a crimson korowai, without pissing a huge number of people off?

The poor old Nelson City Council, which poured $16,000 of its rate-payers’ money into the parade, had no idea that Santa was about to be indigenised. Neither, if the outrage being expressed on talkback radio and across social media is any guide, were the thousands of Pakeha parents and grandparents whose diminutive charges wandered home with them disconsolately – having been denied their chance to cheer-on jolly old St Nick.

What sort of woke, politically-correct bubble would you have to be living in to think this was a good idea? Certainly, it is hard to imagine someone with little brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces; someone who remembers mum or dad reading them The Night Before Christmas, or watching The Miracle On 34th Street – or even Bad Santa – being so insensitive, so utterly unaware of the trouble they were about to cause.

No, it would have to be someone for whom the Christmas Season holds no precious memories of wonder and joy. Someone who had never read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – let alone the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!

Such people are becoming more and more common in New Zealand as, with every passing census, the number of New Zealanders subscribing to Christianity – or even the Deity, himself – dwindles. Atheism is close to achieving majority status in this country and along with it the justification for purging New Zealand society of every officially recognised Pakeha religious and/or folk festival.

Not (God forbid!) the religious or folk festivals celebrated by New Zealand’s indigenous and immigrant communities. No woke atheist would dream of insulting the members of these communities by interpolating a figure from a completely different cultural milieu into their celebrations. No, it is only those unlucky enough to be born into the culture they (supposedly) share with these arrogant traducers of tradition who will find their special day out with the kids and grandkids ruined.

Perhaps the decision to introduce (unannounced and unauthorised) a Maori Santa Claus was conceived as some sort of payback for the A&P Show float featuring men and women in blackface which so outraged progressive metropolitan New Zealanders a fortnight or so ago?

“Let’s give these provincial deplorables a taste of their own medicine. See how they like it!” Was that the spirit in which the decision to disappoint thousands of eager children was taken? I hope not.

But, even if the decision to dispense with the traditional Santa Claus was taken with the most noble of progressive intentions. Even if it was undertaken as a means of giving the celebration of Christmas a uniquely New Zealand flavour, it nevertheless remains an act of the most aggressive racism.

Why? Because those who made it are guilty of either consciously or unconsciously rejecting the whole notion that the cherished traditions of a specific ethnic community should be considered sacrosanct and worthy of respect. Because the person, or persons, responsible for the decision arrogated to themselves the right to set aside the key cultural element by which a “Santa Parade” is defined: the beaming, white-haired and white-bearded old gentlemen clad in a red suit, edged with white fur, seated in a sleigh piled high with gifts and pulled through the air by flying reindeer. Absurd? Of course it’s absurd! But no more absurd than the Prophet Mohammed being carried to paradise on a flying horse. Or a god with the body of a human-being and the head of an elephant. Racism is no less racism because the contempt on display is being directed at members of one’s own tribe.

There will be consequences, of course. There always are when cultural traditions are traduced. How many little pairs of ears absorbed the angry, racially-charged comments that undoubtedly followed this indigenous interpolation of Santa Claus? How much of the good-will between Maori and Pakeha New Zealand was squandered? The metropolitan elites, who refuse to take what happened in Nelson seriously, are no doubt comforting themselves with the thought that the umbrage taken is a peculiarly “provincial” phenomenon. It is not. Pakeha racism is everywhere and those responsible for so arrogantly raining on Nelson’s Santa Parade have only made it worse.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 4 December 2018.

Friday, 30 November 2018

The Politics Of Transformation - Warning: TERF Triggering.

The Excluder Excluded: What does it say about the state of identity politics in New Zealand and around the world that if Germaine Greer, the Matriarch of Second Wave Feminism, announced she was intending to participate in the Auckland Pride Parade, then Labour's Manurewa MP, Louisa Wall, would do everything in her power to exclude her?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN that Labour’s Louisa Wall would ban Germaine Greer from the Auckland Pride Parade? What offence could the Matriarch of Second Wave Feminism possibly have committed to merit Wall’s exclusion?

Greer’s “crime” is deceptively innocuous. She refuses to abandon her opinion that human-beings come into this world as either women or men, and that simply declaring oneself to be a man or a woman is insufficient from an evidentiary perspective. Greer believes that gender is a matter of straightforward human biology. That it cannot be an act of will – or surgery.

When BBC Newsnight’s Kirsty Walk challenged her with the question: “If a man has his gender reassigned and outwardly – and he feels, inwardly – he is a woman. In your view can he be a woman or not?” Greer responded, with typical Australian bluntness: “No.” And when Walk observed that, to some people, her reaction might be considered insulting, the 76-year-old scholar replied: “I don’t care. People get insulted all the time. Australians get insulted every day of the week!”

That October 2015 interview contributed hugely to the steadily worsening ideological stand-off responsible for introducing the abbreviation “TERF” – Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist – to the vocabulary of progressives around the world. Including, we now know, Louisa Wall, who was secretly recorded telling participants at a recent Pride Parade hui: “My whole thing is that I don’t want any f...ing TERFs at the Pride Parade!”

Wall’s position would appear to be that in the name of inclusion it is necessary to exclude the excluders. The Pride Parade, she says, must never be anything less than a celebration of the whole Rainbow Community. To challenge the right of trans individuals to define their own gender identity constitutes a hateful denial of their human rights. In Wall’s opinion it is vital that TERFs be prevented from disputing those rights.

Greer’s objection to the celebration of Male-to-Female transformers is classic Second Wave Feminist. When BBC Newsnight’s Walk confronted Greer with the example of Caitlyn Jenner, the former football hero and medal-winning Olympic decathlete who later became a glamorous participant in Keeping Up With The Kardashians, she replied: “I think it’s misogynist. I think misogyny plays a really big part in all of this. That a man who goes to these lengths will be a better woman than someone who was just born a woman.”

Greer’s charge of misogyny goes to the heart of the conflict. Here is the author of The Female Eunuch, whose determination that women should embrace their femaleness fully and fearlessly made her a feminist icon for the whole Baby Boom Generation, rebelling angrily against the notion that gender is a fickle, fluid concept. Greer simply will not accept that womanhood is no less a cultural creation than a Versace gown – and just as easily knocked-off.

But, if gender is, indeed, a cultural artefact, then maleness is every bit as artificial as femaleness. What’s more, in a world dominated by aggressive and intolerant upholders of patriarchal values, the covering which males are expected to fasten over and around their bodies resembles much more a suit of medieval armour than it does a Versace gown.

What, therefore, could be more radical – more liberating – than the idea that all those human-beings who feel uncomfortable, confined, oppressed in their suit of armour can simply strip it off and throw it away? Or, conversely, that all those human-beings who long for the reassurance of iron and steel have every right to seek redemption in the armourer’s forge?

“Reject all binary choices!”, declare the singers of this new freedom song. “We can become the people our hearts have always told us we were.”

The Marxists would wearily interject that they have been here before. That human-beings become what the exigencies of existence require them to be. Hunters/gatherers, warriors/wives, workers/homemakers. The computers that define post-industrial societies may follow the logic of zeroes and ones, but the civilisation they are rapidly bringing into existence will have less to do with either/or dichotomies than any of the civilisations which preceded it. Hitherto, the chief preoccupation of human communities has been with survival. The new age which beckons to us from beyond the great test of climate change may be preoccupied with becoming.

The conservative clings to what was and what works. The radical reaches for what s/he yet may be.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 November 2018.

From A Table By The Window - A Short Story About The Huawei Decision.

“Ever the idealist, dear boy. You surely didn’t expect this government to tell all those lovely people from British Intelligence and the FBI, who just happened to be in town this week, that, in spite of their oh-so-discretely conveyed objections, Spark’s deal with Huawei would be going ahead.”

HOW MANY YEARS has it been, I asked myself, since I climbed these stairs? That the little Wellington café was still in business after more than 40 years struck me as a miracle. And where better to meet the man who could still remember the events of 40 years ago – not least because he was there, in the thick of them?

He was waiting for me at the table window, his fingers moving slowly over the smooth face of his device. Two full glasses of red wine glowed dully in the wet afternoon light. The muted transactions of Willis Street provided a sibilant soundtrack.

“There you are”, he said, sweeping the information from his screen and placing the device carefully on the table. “Sit down, dear boy, sit down. I took the liberty of ordering a very nice Pinot Noir.”

“Perfect,” I replied, draping my damp jacket over the back of my chair. “I suppose that phone of yours hasn’t stopped ringing since the announcement?”

He smiled wanly. “Ringing, dear boy, ringing? Nothing rings anymore. Our devices beep, or chirrup, or play a bar or two of something, but they do not ring – much too indiscrete.”

“Discretion being the word-of-the-day”, I replied. “As in ‘discretion’ being the better part of valour – a quality of which this government appears to be in short supply.”

“Ever the idealist, dear boy. You surely didn’t expect this government to tell all those lovely people from British Intelligence and the FBI, who just happened to be in town this week, that, in spite of their oh-so-discretely conveyed objections, Spark’s deal with Huawei would be going ahead.”

“Forgive me, but I was under the impression that it was the Government of New Zealand’s job to define the parameters of its ‘national security’ – not the FBI’s. Does the continuing economic strength and welfare of the country not fall under the heading of ‘national security’? Or, making sure that the goodwill of the country’s largest trading partner is retained, and maybe even enhanced? I thought that might also be a matter of ‘national security’? Clearly, I was wrong.”

“If that was what you thought, dear boy, then, yes, you were wrong. Very wrong. The idea that one of the Five Eyes might sign up to a deal that could put all the other eyes at risk has absolutely no feathers, dear boy, none at all. It is never going to fly.”

“Ah, yes, the Five Eyes. A vast electronic eavesdropping network dedicated to plucking all manner of classified information out of the air and sending it on, sight unseen, to the United States of America. The Five Eyes. An operation whose sole purpose is to steal other people’s secrets. This is the outfit that’s demanding we jeopardise our economic and diplomatic relationship with the Chinese because the Chinese might use their state-of-the-art 5G technology to do what? Oh, yes, that’s right – to steal other people’s secrets!”

“The most important noun in those impassioned sentences, dear boy, was United States of America. You named the most powerful nation on the planet. Knowing when you did so that what the most powerful nation on the planet wants, the most powerful nation on the planet gets. And, right now, what it wants is to make sure the nation aiming to take its place is not in a position to weaponise ‘The Internet of Things’ against it.”

“You’ve been reading to many thrillers.”

“Actually, dear boy, it’s you who hasn’t been reading enough. Cyber-warfare is the greatest threat we face. Why? Because, in just a few years, the interconnectedness of the world and the breath-taking speed at which information travels will confer upon the technology organising its distribution the power to simply shut down the economic, social and political systems of its owner’s rivals. What would you do if you went to the nearest ATM and discovered that every one of your bank accounts had been deleted? That all your money had gone? Poof! Just disappeared? What if the same thing had happened to everybody else’s bank accounts? How does a government ‘fix’ a problem like that?”

“Okay – suppose I buy into this sci-fi scenario. It still boils down to Lenin’s fundamental question: ‘Who? Whom?’ Someone’s got to be in the omnipotent position you describe. So, what you’re actually telling me is that the omnipotent one cannot under any circumstances be China. Which is just another way of saying that it has to be the United States.”

“It’s not what I’m saying, dear boy, it’s what the United States is saying.”

“Regardless of the consequences for the economic and social welfare of New Zealanders? Do the Americans and their lickspittles in London and Canberra not understand that Beijing will exact a price for being treated so shabbily by Wellington?”

“Of course they do. They just don’t care. Why don’t they care? Because they know that anything Beijing decides to do will take time to manifest itself in a way that impacts upon the ordinary person in the street. Anything they decide to do to punish a maverick New Zealand government, by way of contrast, will take effect almost immediately. With the Australians acting as their proxies, the Americans can make our economy scream a lot faster than the Chinese. What’s more, in its upper echelons, New Zealand society is so stuffed with US “assets” that the political destabilisation of a recalcitrant government would be over in a matter of weeks, not months.”

“So we just have to sit back and take it – or the Yanks will rip our guts out?”

My companion looked out the window for a moment, taking in the hurrying Willis Street crowds, umbrellas raised against the wind-driven rain, and sipped his wine.

“Do you know, dear boy, that it wasn’t so very far from here that Bill Sutch was apprehended. All his life he had struggled to find a way for New Zealand to strike out on its own: to cut herself free from the apron strings of Mother England; to step out from Uncle Sam’s shadow. The problem he was never able to solve was, how? How does a tiny country escape the clutches of an imperial superpower? In the end, the best answer he could come up with was: by enlisting the help of another superpower. Do you remember, dear boy, how that story ended? The same delightful outfit that has been entertaining the boys and girls from MI6, and the FBI were on to poor old Bill in a flash. They put him on trial. Crushed his spirit. Within twelve months he was dead – and so was the government he had tried to help. Not a happy ending, dear boy. And not a course of action I’d recommend – especially not to a government as callow and inexperienced as this one.

Now it was my turn to stare out into the rain. To take in the purposeful haste of the capital city’s busy ants.

“More wine, dear boy, and a plate of the chef’s truly outstanding club sandwiches. In forty years they, at least, haven’t changed.

This short story was posted simultaneously on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road of Friday, 30 November 2018.

Winston Keeps His Pledge To The Small Businesses Of Small-Town New Zealand.

Class Warrior: Like his predecessors in the Social Credit Political League, the NZ First leader is acutely aware that the small rural towns and provincial cities of New Zealand are hotbeds of class conflict. Not simply the classic Marxist conflict of capitalist versus proletarian, but also the no less bitter conflict between large and small businesses. Indeed, it is possible to characterise life in provincial New Zealand as a constant struggle of the particular against the general: of individual agency against institutional power.

WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT that the most accomplished class warrior to emerge from the struggle to improve New Zealand’s labour laws would be Winston Peters? No one else with a dog in this fight saw the class issues at stake as clearly as Winston Peters and NZ First. Not the employers; not the unions; and certainly not the Labour, National or Green parties. Peters and his colleagues can walk away from this debate as the undisputed champions of small provincial business. The electoral consequences of NZ First’s decisive intervention should not be underestimated.

There is a strong temptation on the part of left-wing activists in the major metropolitan centres to write off the people of the provinces as a bunch of undifferentiated reactionaries. To your average Labour or Green activist, provincials are racist, sexist and homophobic “rednecks”. The sort of people who still see nothing wrong with sending a float filled with people in blackface down the main street of their little town. Hopeless and irredeemable, these voters are not worth wooing – unless you’re Stuart Nash. (And the less said about Stuart Nash the better!)

Winston Peters knows better. Like his predecessors in the Social Credit Political League, the NZ First leader is acutely aware that the small rural towns and provincial cities of New Zealand are hotbeds of class conflict. Not simply the classic Marxist conflict of capitalist versus proletarian, but also the no less bitter conflict between large and small businesses. Indeed, it is possible to characterise life in provincial New Zealand as a constant struggle of the particular against the general: of individual agency against institutional power.

People living in large cities have a bad habit of romanticising small towns. They like to think that in a place where everybody knows their neighbours life must be wonderful. The reality is almost the exact opposite. In a small community the social hierarchy is much more sharply exposed. Yes, everybody knows their neighbours – but they also know exactly where they sit in the social pecking-order. Fun, one imagines, if you are positioned at or near the top. Wretched, if you are located near the bottom.

The local lawyers and accountants, for example, are perfectly placed to know exactly how well, or how badly, their neighbour’s are doing. The town’s doctors and teachers are similarly well-positioned. If knowledge is power, then these provincial professionals have a lot to play with.

The senior managers of nationwide chains, salarymen who will not lose their houses if their executive decisions turn out badly, may look down their noses at the senior bureaucrats employed by local and central government but, in truth, their day-to-day jobs are distinguished by the same petty protocols; the same demands from above. Well remunerated, but subjected to unceasing “performance reviews”, many opt to take out their frustrations on those further down the totem pole.

Not that the owners of the town’s small businesses would include themselves among the pen-pushers’ inferiors. In their own eyes – and often in the eyes of their employees – they are town’s true heroes.

Independent of spirit, willing to have a crack, contemptuous of those whose only purpose in this world appears to be making the lives of people like themselves as difficult as possible, it is difficult not to admire these small businesspeople.

It is no mean feat to keep a business afloat in the provinces. Notoriously under-capitalised, they all-too-often keep their operations afloat by paying themselves less than their workers. They are no friend of the trade unions with their one-rule-fits-all approach, but neither are they friends of the banks who bleed them dry or the big firms who expect them to submit ridiculously low bids for the jobs they then take their own sweet time paying for.

But without these small business people the towns and cities of provincial New Zealand would die. Their absence is frighteningly easy to spot. Main streets are dead: their shopfronts boarded-up and the real estate agent’s “To Let” signs fading in the sun. The young people those shuttered businesses might have employed have either fled or broken bad. The only signs of life are around the local office of the MSD.

These are the towns NZ First is pledged to restore to economic health. Winston Peters and Shane Jones want those kids in jobs, earning money, dreaming of one day becoming their own boss – just like the man or the woman who took them on under the 90-day rule, to see whether they had what it took, and then employed them permanently when they proved themselves hard-working and trustworthy. The unions can knock on the boss’s door as often as they like – they will find few, if any, takers here.

Of course there are exceptions – but in small-town New Zealand it is more common to find the small employers and their workers united in solidarity against the people who live on the hill. It’s one thing to be paid by the taxpayers; to grow fat on the fees you charge; or draw the salary only a big corporation can afford to pay. It’s quite another to keep the town’s cars and trucks filled up and roadworthy; or to fill the bellies of its inhabitants with decent tucker. All those engaged in small businesses: both their owners and the people who work for them; have taken a bet on themselves. Very often that bet is lost. Fair enough. Making a small business pay has never been easy. All the players ask is that the game stays honest: that the deck isn’t stacked against them.

That is the pledge NZ First made to them – and that is the pledge it has kept. Wages are not always paid in cash. Sometimes they are paid in dreams. By honouring that currency, Winston Peters and NZ First have made the heroes of small-town New Zealand their own.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 29 November 2018.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Where Is The Mass Movement Against Climate Change?

The Way We Were: I was seated in the Auckland Town Hall when Jacinda promised to make climate change her generation’s nuclear-free moment. Like everybody else I roared my approval. But where is the nationwide movement demanding change that matches the extraordinary activism and reach of the Nuclear-Free New Zealand phenomenon.

WHEN JACINDA ANNOUNCED she was having a baby, I was thrilled. What better guarantee could we have of serious government action on the big issues than a prime minister with a tiny and vulnerable child’s future to protect? Well, Neve arrived safely, but the urgent action required to secure her future seems as far away as ever.

I was seated in the Auckland Town Hall when Jacinda promised to make climate change her generation’s nuclear-free moment. Like everybody else I roared my approval. But where is the nationwide movement demanding change that matches the extraordinary activism and reach of the Nuclear-Free New Zealand phenomenon. The latter had a lively presence not only in every major city, but also in every sizable town. The evidence was there for everyone to see as, one after the other, the councils of those towns and cities defiantly declared themselves nuclear-free. Many of those councilors were members of, or strongly supported, the Labour Party.

Just how embedded the nuclear-free movement was in the Labour Party is evidenced by the Fourth Labour Government’s unwillingness to stand in its way. No amount of internal resistance to Rogernomics was able to turn the Lange-Douglas Government from its course. But those same politicians were more willing to face the wrath of Ronald Reagan’s America than the New Zealand peace movement. All Labour’s President, Margaret Wilson, had to do was threaten to convene a Special Conference of the Party to reaffirm Labour’s “No Nukes” policy and the Cabinet rolled over.

But, on the calamitous issue of Climate Change, an issue with as much potential to lay waste human civilisation as an all-out nuclear war, there isn’t the slightest sign of a broad mass movement with the will and the power to force the Coalition Government’s hand. Nor is there the slightest evidence of a well-organised group within the Labour Party itself. No one’s willing to advance the cause of fighting Climate Change from either the stage or the floor of Labour’s annual conferences. In 2018, the members look to the top for inspiration and guidance. On Climate Change, however, they look in vain.

The other thing that’s missing is the sort of grass-roots anti-nuclear education effort that both complimented and drove forward the anti-nuclear movement. New Zealanders researched nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy both individually and in groups. Local libraries ordered in specialist literature. Activists organised public seminars. Voters learned about the futility of civil defence measures and shuddered at the threat of “nuclear winter”. The “experts” thrust forward by the government to justify the status-quo were answered by the peace movement’s own. Against an informed and active citizenry both the National and Labour parties found themselves politically helpless.

If Jacinda is truly determined to make Climate Change her generation’s nuclear-free moment there is plenty she could be doing. For a start, she could use the “bully pulpit” of the prime minister’s office to summon her generation to action. She could fund a nationwide series of “Climate Change Forums” preliminary to the establishment of locally-organised Climate Change action-groups. A “Day of Action” could be announced and every young New Zealander invited to add their body to a nationwide demonstration of their generation’s vital interest in fighting Climate Change.

Within the Labour Party itself the rank-and-file membership could be given official encouragement to debate the best means of addressing Climate Change legislatively. What sort of laws does New Zealand need and in what order should they be introduced? A Special Conference could be called to assess the results and the news media invited to attend every session. The relevant ministers could be required to make themselves available for Q+A sessions. The whole event could be broadcast live on the Internet.

A prime minister determined to make Climate Change her generation’s nuclear-free moment could be doing all of this – and more. By the same token, however, a nation determined to “do something” about Climate Change has no need for guidance from above. The threat of an all-out nuclear exchange between the USA and the Soviet Union, a catastrophe from which no human-being on Earth would emerge unscathed, was all it had taken for hundreds-of-thousands of New Zealanders to commit themselves to making their country nuclear-free. Why, then, hasn’t the threat of the planet becoming uninhabitable by human-beings been enough to mobilise New Zealand citizens in the same way?

Does the answer lie in a simple lack of faith in the ability of any one person – any single generation – to make any kind of difference? When a left-wing populist government declines to keep its promise to oppose the TPPA. When a Green Party Minister of Conservation refuses to protect her country’s pristine water resources. What realistic hope is there then that people’s voices, people’s votes, can make anything like the difference made by the nuclear-free movement of the early 1980s? Have we entered an age when words and gestures are as plentiful as sparrows, and deeds as rare as Hector’s Dolphins?

When, on some unbearably hot day in the future, Neve asks her mother what she had to say about Climate Change, Jacinda will be able to answer: “Heaps!”. But, when her daughter follows-up her first question with a second; when Neve says: “That’s good, Mum, because everyone loved the way you talked. But what I need to know now is – what did you do?” How will Jacinda respond?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 22 November 2018.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The Case Of The Problematic Professor.

Disturber Of Dragons: Were Professor Brady’s antagonists from any other nation but China the problem confronting Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters would not exist. Unfortunately the Peoples Republic of China is New Zealand’s largest trading partner after Australia. Pissing-off China could be extremely injurious to this nation’s economic health.

ANNE-MARIE BRADY presents this government with a rather large problem. Her alleged harassment by agents of Chinese national security has all the makings of a cause celebre. Were Professor Brady’s antagonists from any other nation but China the problem confronting Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters would not exist. One has only to recall Helen Clark’s response to the discovery of an active Israeli spy mission underway on New Zealand soil to appreciate the political capital to be made out of being seen to take the defence of New Zealand sovereignty seriously. Unfortunately for Ardern and Peters, however, the Peoples Republic of China is not Israel – it’s New Zealand’s largest trading partner after Australia. When Israel gets angry it cannot threaten to undermine the New Zealand economy. Pissing-off China, on the other hand, can be extremely injurious to this nation’s economic health.

The latest chapter in the Brady saga, a letter from a group of academics, journalists and activists demanding a more aggressive defence of academic freedom, can hardly have improved the PM’s mood. Her hopes of the whole matter quietly disappearing have been dashed. People want answers – not evasions.

But do “people” have any right to answers in a matter as delicate as this one? Is the public entitled to push aside all the geopolitical and economic factors impinging on their government as if they are of no importance?

Prattling on about being the “critic and conscience” of society is all very well, but when New Zealand’s universities are so dependent on the continuing inflow of international students, is it really all that wise to antagonise one of the largest contributors to this country’s educational export trade? It would be interesting to see how the nation’s vice-chancellors would react if equivalents of Anne-Marie Brady started popping up on their own campuses. Each academic activist launching equally uncompromising attacks against the Peoples Republic. How would all that criticising and conscientising affect their bottom-line I wonder?

And what about all that Chinese investment in New Zealand’s agricultural sector: all those massive milk treatment plants springing up around the provinces; how keen would the government be to see all that brought to an end? How would Shane Jones respond to the loss of so many well-paying jobs? And David Parker, how would he feel when New Zealand’s perishable exports started piling-up on China’s docks? How would Federated Farmers react to a Chinese freeze-out? Or the Dairy Workers Union, for that matter?

New Zealand lives by its agricultural exports - which is why the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement was so important when the Global Financial Crisis struck. Without it, this country would have had significantly less to come and go on. Chinese consumers saved us from the sort of vicious austerity measures that afflicted the people of the United Kingdom and Greece. The nature of the Chinese system has not changed since 2008. If we were happy then to be given access to the huge Chinese market, are we not happy now? What’s changed?

We all know the answer to that question. What has changed is that the United States is no longer prepared to see China assert its “hard” (military and economic) and “soft” (cultural and propagandistic) power unchallenged. In concert with its principal regional allies, Japan and Australia, the US is pushing back against Chinese expansion into the Pacific – once an American lake but now the location of intense great power rivalry. Try as it might (and it tried very hard under John Key and his foreign minister, Murray McCully) New Zealand is finding it increasingly difficult, in the age of Donald Trump, to keep its distance from this looming fight between the Eagle and the Dragon.

Professor Brady is an acknowledged expert on the production and delivery of Chinese soft power – its “magic weapons”. The good professor is not, however, above advancing a little soft power on her own account. Is it no more than a coincidence that she has been called upon to present her ideas to the Australian parliament during the “China Panic”? Or that her academic articles and speeches are followed closely, and receive considerable approbation, in Washington DC? That the name of Anne-Marie Brady started appearing in our news media at exactly the same moment as the rivalry between the USA and China ratcheted-up several notches – was that nothing more than serendipity?

Much has been made of President Trump’s extraordinary statement concerning America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. What made it extraordinary was its brutal honesty. For once naked American self-interest was presented to the world shorn of its hypocritical vestments. “It’s about America first”, said the President, truthfully. He then informed the world that if putting America’s interests first means turning a blind eye to cold-blooded, state-sanctioned murder, then so be it – that’s what his administration (like all its predecessors) will do.

Jacinda can’t really say “It’s about New Zealand First” – that could be misinterpreted, but if she were to say something similar in defence of her continuing silence vis-à-vis Anne-Marie Brady, then she would earn the respect of Beijing and Washington alike. With considerable relief, the advisers to both President Xi and President Trump would be able to tell their bosses: “This New Zealand prime minister, at least she knows how the game of geopolitics is played.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 27 November 2018.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

The Perils Of Inclusion.

Something To Be Proud Of: Inclusion is not without its downside. Once inside the fold, there is a strong temptation to silence dissenting voices. Calling out instances of ongoing discrimination and oppression smacks too much of biting the hand that no longer strikes you. Far better to welcome in all the institutions and businesses so eager, now, to be associated with the rainbow banner. The Pride Parade needs sponsors - not dissidents.

SHOULD WE BE SURPRISED that the rainbow community turned out to be so conservative? That the effort of the Pride Parade board to address the fear so easily triggered by police uniforms has provoked such a swift and devastating backlash? That so many gay and lesbian people appear to have forgotten what it feels like to be labelled, singled-out, trashed and excluded? That so many New Zealanders seem unaware that it is precisely those who dwell furthest away from the blessings of societal acceptance that have the strongest claim to our care and protection?

Something has shifted. In the years separating the Hero Parade from the Pride Parade the straight world’s perception of the rainbow community and the rainbow community’s perception of itself have undergone profound changes. What was once considered wild and transgressive has been made safe. The civic leaders who railed against the Hero Parade’s raunchiness have gone. Until this past fortnight, civic and corporate institutions have been lining up to tell the world how proud they are of Pride.

It raises an important question. Was the “gay lifestyle”, as mainstream New Zealand insisted on calling the non-normative expression of human sexuality; or “queer culture”, as it often described itself; the product of the dominant culture’s repression? Did the amelioration of that repression lead to the well-behaved heterosexuality of the straight world becoming the model for a rainbow community no longer obliged to make virtues out of the vices it had for centuries been accused of embodying?

And was the straight world’s growing acceptance of the rainbow community accelerated by the latter’s demand to be admitted to all of society’s core institutions? Gays and lesbians insisted that they had as much to offer the armed forces and the police as heterosexual citizens. Indeed, there was no occupational grouping, no profession, which would not benefit from opening its doors to the non-straight population. Likewise, the right to marry, raise children, form families and bequeath property should be extended to all citizens regardless of their sexual preferences. What was there to fear or dislike about a community so determined to sign-up to all the world’s conventions?

The watchword, for straights and non-straights alike, was “inclusion”. The revolutionary rhetoric of the years immediately following the Stonewall Riot in New York’s Greenwich Village had been vindicated. The years of watching friends and lovers die of AIDS while the straight world looked on and did nothing had, in the end, brought people of good will to the understanding that pain and grief is universal. That, ultimately, our common humanity trumps our diverse sexuality. It was something to celebrate. Something to be proud of.

Hence the Pride Parade. Hence the sense of elation when institutions like the Police and the Armed Forces signalled their willingness to mouth the watchword. Now, at last, the horrors of the bad old days could be forgotten. The hazing, the beatings, the murders. All the ritual humiliations, perfected over centuries to punish those who failed the tests of church and state. Why dwell upon the history when uniformed members of the rainbow community were willing to march in step with the people their predecessors had persecuted?

Inclusion is not without its downside, however. Once inside the fold, there is a strong temptation to silence dissenting voices. Calling out instances of ongoing discrimination and oppression smacks too much of biting the hand that no longer strikes you. Far better to welcome in all the institutions and businesses so eager, now, to be associated with the rainbow banner – especially when you’re expected to cough-up $150,000 for the privilege of walking down Ponsonby Road. The Pride Parade needs sponsors – not dissidents.

But does that need for the corporate dollar mean that the issues raised by the trans community should simply be ignored? Should the fate of young people locked up in police cells and prisons with, at best, only a grudging acceptance of their gender identification or, at worst, uncaring disregard, be set to one side? Is the treatment meted out to them while the responsibility of Police and Corrections personnel unworthy of consideration?  Do their stories, laced as they are with all the trauma of marginalisation and despair, not count?

The Pride Parade board decided that they did count and voted narrowly to give the word “inclusion” a radical inflection. It was a brave decision – and they are paying a very high price for it. Those who have attempted to defend the board’s decision have been abused and  spat upon by angry supporters of the status quo. In terms of sheer numbers, it would appear that the majority of the rainbow community favour a more conservative definition of inclusion.

How quickly people forget.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 23 November 2018.