Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Who Are You Calling "Evil"?

This ordinary-looking man, who lived in an ordinary-looking house, on an ordinary-looking street, who was tried in this ordinary-looking courtroom - for mass murder:  Could this balding, middle-aged man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and an ill-fitting suit really be responsible for the deaths of six million innocent people? Far from resembling Lucifer, Adolf Eichmann looked like a worn-out bureaucrat – which is exactly what he was. The philosopher, Hannah Arendt, referred to this profoundly demoralising discrepancy as “the banality of evil”.

THE PROBLEM OF EVIL has taxed the minds of men and women for millennia. Is evil a force, like gravity, that drags human-beings down into the depths of depravity? Does this force reside in a single conscious entity: immensely powerful and seemingly immortal? If so, is this entity motivated to pour its essence into individual human-beings: transforming them into monsters? Or is it, rather, that certain individuals open themselves voluntarily to the malignant forces of the cosmos: deliberately absorbing them in order to unleash evil upon others?

Many theologians (yes, theologians, because any discussion of evil cannot help straying into the realms of religion and metaphysics) reject the idea of evil as a universal force and dismiss entirely the idea that evil can be personified. Their definition of evil employs the concepts of absence and distance. Evil, they say, manifests itself in the behaviour of people who have become separated from God. (Or, if you prefer, from what is Good.) The more prolonged the absence; the greater the distance; the greater their capacity to behave in “un-good” ways.

Since religion and metaphysics make a great many people living in the twenty-first century uncomfortable, the Problem of Evil is often transferred into the realm of science – most particularly, the disciplines of psychiatry, psychology and neurology.

Of course, if the explanation for evil is neurological – i.e. some form of brain malfunction – then the concept is immediately stripped of its moral dimension. If someone behaves violently, inflicting pain and suffering upon the innocent because of some physical defect they cannot control, then they cannot be considered evil. Dangerous, certainly. But not evil.

The psychiatrists, by contrast, search for the causes of predatory and sadistic behaviour in the individual’s past. Traumatic events, experienced in infancy, are believed to influence the individual’s adult conduct. Violence and cruelty, especially, are thought to manifest themselves intergenerationally. Or, as the English poet, W. H. Auden, expresses the idea in his famous poem, “1 September 1939”:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

But, even this approach to the Problem of Evil leaves many people feeling troubled. Since we cannot control the things that are done to us in our infancy then, surely, it is unfair to hold adult individuals responsible for their aberrant behaviour. If the harm they inflict on others is generated by harms inflicted on them, then how can we call them evil? Our unease becomes even more pronounced when we discover that extreme trauma can leave not only emotional, but also very real neurological scars on its victims’ minds and brains. And, if that is true, then, once again, the concept of evil dissolves before our eyes.

Psychology only compounds these concerns. If human behaviour is the result of “drives” impelled by the mitochondria in our cells, our instincts; and if religious, philosophical and ideological systems are overlaid upon these drives in order to control and channel their social effects; then, again, the scope for individual human agency is severely limited. As the American socialist writer, Upton Sinclair, shrewdly observed: “It is very difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

The other great difficulty presented by the Problem of Evil is the way in which human-beings, upon being convinced that a certain course of action is not only entirely justified but entirely right, will proceed methodically to ensure that the course of action is implemented – no matter what the cost.

Dr Stanley Milgram’s horrible experiment, in which people were instructed to inflict electric shocks on participants who failed to answer set questions correctly, offers grim confirmation of this human weakness. Responding to the instructions of the authority figure overseeing the experiment, fully two-thirds of the participants were prepared to deliver potentially lethal shocks. They could hear the person screaming (or thought they could since no one was actually being hurt) but, when ordered by the man in the white coat to “continue with the experiment”, they obeyed.

In a society divided by class, gender and ethnicity there will inevitably be people whose salaries depend upon their willingness to deliver shocks – both real and symbolic – to their fellow human-beings. It is extremely difficult to convince such people that they are doing anything wrong. While the prevailing social and economic system and its practices are believed to be both justified and right, the actions of these people, and the consequences of their actions, will be similarly regarded.

The German philosopher, Hannah Arendt, observing the trial of Adolf Eichmann (one of the leading planners and executors of the Holocaust) in a Tel Aviv courtroom was struck by how ordinary he looked. Could this balding, middle-aged man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and an ill-fitting suit really be responsible for the deaths of six million innocent people? Far from resembling Lucifer, Eichmann looked like a worn-out bureaucrat – which is exactly what he was. Arendt referred to this profoundly demoralising discrepancy as “the banality of evil”.

Because, unfortunately, evil looks nothing like the artist’s impression: there are no horns, no tail, no cloven hooves, no whiff of sulphur. Life would be so much easier if there were! No, if you really want to know what evil looks like, then examine the faces of the people who live next door; the people on the bus; the people in the lunchroom at work. But don’t stop there. If you truly want to examine the face of evil – just take a look in the mirror.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 14 August 2018.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Checkmate In Two Years?

Checkmate: The impending political crisis over free speech threatens at least two of the multiple players currently engaged on New Zealand’s political chessboard. For Labour and the Greens it may already be too late to protect themselves from the moves of their opponents. For National and NZ First, however, a path to electoral victory in 2020 beckons.

A CHESS GRAND-MASTER can discern the future direction of the game from the way the pieces on the board are configured. He is thus able to predict the moves of his opponent with considerable accuracy. In some instances, he will be able to identify a path to victory that cannot be blocked. When both players see this path, the doomed King is laid flat and the game is over.

The impending political crisis over free speech threatens at least two of the multiple players currently engaged on New Zealand’s political chessboard. For Labour and the Greens it may already be too late to protect themselves from the moves of their opponents. For National and NZ First, however, a path to electoral victory in 2020 beckons.

The passions aroused by the recent visit of two Canadian right-wing provocateurs, Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux, are evidence of deep cultural tensions within New Zealand society.

Superficially, these tensions appear to be generated by powerful disagreements over what freedom of speech actually means. Those who regard free speech as an indispensable precondition for any functioning democracy pit themselves against those who consider the whole concept to be a mere rhetorical flourish: a principle promoted by dominant groups for no better reason than to maintain their economic, social and cultural privilege.

At a deeper level, however, the controversy threw into sharp relief the ideological contours of twenty-first century New Zealand. Multiculturalism was exposed as something much more than an academic buzzword. What Southern and Molyneux made clear, by opposing it so openly and aggressively, is that multiculturalism has become our official state ideology.

There’s a saying, often attributed to Voltaire, which declares: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise.” The free speech controversy, by identifying multiculturalism as the concept Kiwis are not allowed to critique without drawing down the unrelenting wrath of its state-sanctioned and supported defenders, has caused many citizens to wonder when and how “nationalism” and “biculturalism” became dirty words.

The answer is bound up with New Zealand’s – or, at least “official” New Zealand’s – wholesale embrace of neoliberalism and globalisation. A country whose elites have signed-up to an economic philosophy based on the free movement of goods, capital and labour: the three fundamental drivers of globalisation; is more or less obliged to adopt multiculturalism as it core social philosophy.

Old fashioned New Zealand nationalism, and its more recent offshoot “biculturalism”, were products of a country which saw itself as offering something uniquely and positively its own to the rest of the world. It is probable that a substantial majority of Kiwis still subscribe to this notion (although a significant minority still struggle with the concept of biculturalism).

What the free speech controversy of the past four weeks revealed to New Zealanders was that too forthright an expression of cultural nationalism can result in the persons advocating such notions being branded xenophobic or racist – and even to accusations of being a white supremacist, fascist or Nazi.

The battle for free speech cannot, therefore, be prevented from extending out into a broader discussion over whether or not New Zealanders have the right to reject the downsides of neoliberalism, globalisation and multiculturalism. Is it any longer possible to advance the radically nationalistic idea that the nature and future of New Zealand is a matter which New Zealanders alone must decide, without finding oneself pilloried on Twitter or banned from the nation’s universities?

Returning to our chess analogy, it is possible to foresee that in the months ahead NZ First will find itself feeling more and more alienated from the radical multiculturalists in Labour and the Greens. The sharper the free speech debate becomes, the more likely it is that Winston Peters and his fellow “fetishizers of New Zealandness” will find themselves branded purveyors of “hate speech” by the Red and Green pieces on the political chessboard.

If National refuses to take the lead role in upholding free speech, then the chances are high that a new political party dedicated to defending New Zealanders’ rights and freedoms will start placing additional pieces on the chessboard. The sheer venom (and violent protests) such a party would be bound to attract from the Ctrl-Left would very soon lift its support above the 5 percent MMP threshold.

Checkmate in two years.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 10 August 2018.

The Government v. The Business Community: Playing Chicken Over Employment Law Reform

But Has Grant Got His Leather Jacket Caught In The Handle? Declining business confidence and how the government should respond to it is fast developing into a game of political and economic ‘chicken’. Both sides know they are being challenged. They also know that the longer they delay responding the greater the risk of a tragic outcome. (Screen shot from Rebel Without A Cause) 

EVERY TIME the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance address the “Business Community” I wince. It’s painful to watch them abase themselves in the way they do. As if their endless protestations of good will and their oft-repeated promise to “listen” will make the slightest difference. The Business Community is acutely aware that there is nothing with more potential to cause them harm than a left-wing government. If it cannot be tamed, then it must be broken.

At the moment the attention of the government’s business opponents is focused on its reaction to the evidence of plummeting business confidence. This is fast developing into a game of political and economic ‘chicken’. Both sides know they are being challenged. They also know that the longer they delay responding the greater the risk of a tragic outcome. The Business Community is, however, convinced that, on the basis of its previous experience with left-wing governments, Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson will swerve first.

By “swerving” they mean backing away (if not actually backing down) from their proposed employment law reforms. The more intelligent members of the business community are only too aware of the head of steam that is building up in the workforce for a decisive shift in the power relationships prevailing in the workplace. Any reform that makes it easier for workers in the private sector to be organised into unions – let alone aggregated into the occupational collectivities of the pre-Employment Contracts Act era – has the potential to set off a wave of unionisation that could fundamentally disadvantage shareholders of all sizes.

Such a “revolution of rising expectations” has, however, been on the cards from the moment Jacinda began scattering her stardust hither and yon in the run-up to last year’s election. That stardust poses a huge problem for Labour. Without it, there was – and is – no possibility of the party winning anything like enough support to form a government. In deploying her politics of hope and kindness, however, Jacinda has raised New Zealanders hopes and dreams to dangerous new heights.

New Zealanders are expecting the Labour-led government to usher-in real and positive changes in the way they live their lives. Failure to meet these expectations will, almost certainly, result in the fall of the Labour-NZF-Green Government.

Jacinda and her team know this. They may have bought themselves some time by setting up scores of working-groups and inquiries, but at some point before the 2020 general election they are going to have to start delivering real gains to the people who voted for them. Being seen to back away, albeit under fierce business pressure, from restoring a modicum of fairness to the workplace will be seen by many traditional Labour supporters (especially the present and former members of trade unions) as a betrayal.

And yet, as the wage campaigns of public sector workers (the only groups who have been able to retain a credible measure of union density) are rolled out and resolved in settlements involving double-figures, the restiveness of the largely un-unionised private sector workforce can only grow. The Business Community do not need to have the consequences of this restiveness spelled out for them. Employment law reform could quite easily result in an unprecedented and largely unorganised strike-wave sweeping across the country.

That’s enough to shake the confidence of even the most unflappable CEO.

Unfortunately, it is also more than enough to unsettle the nerves of a social-democratic government that would (to paraphrase the shrewd observation of an old trade unionist pal of mine) retain control of the losing side in an argument about employment law reform than lose control of the winning side.

In spite of its name, the last thing Labour wants is the New Zealand working-class taking matters into its own hands.

Those who have put their money on Jacinda and Grant swerving at the last minute have, if history is any guide, made a pretty safe bet.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 10 August 2018.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Better Health & Safety Laws Could Have Stopped The 1981 Tour!

People Could Get Hurt Here! If we’d had the same health and safety rules back in 1981 as we have now, then the Springboks wouldn’t have got to play a single game!

IF ONLY the New Zealand of 1981 had possessed health and safety legislation to match the laws of 2018. It took Pat McQuarrie, at the controls of the light aircraft he had stolen from Taupo airport, and his threat to fly it into the grandstand of Hamilton’s Rugby Park, to persuade the Police Commissioner, Bob Walton, that it might be in the interests of the health and safety of the spectators gathered to watch the Springbok-Waikato Rugby match on 25 July 1981 to cancel the fixture.

Fast-forward 37 years and just think how easy it would be to achieve the same result today. No need for the likes of Pat McQuarrie in 2018. A few hundred raggle-taggle left-wing gypsies threatening to “confront” Rugby patrons if they attempted to enter the ground is all it would take to convince the New Zealand Rugby Union that the game would have to be called-off.

Crikey! If we’d had the same health and safety rules back then as we have now, then the Springboks wouldn’t have got to play a single game. The anti-tour movement was just so huge in 1981 that its entirely credible threat to organise major disruptions of air travel, the railways and the motorways would have been more than enough to induce Rob Muldoon to instruct the Rugby Union to withdraw their invitation to the South Africans.

Certainly, the state television network would have required little more than the threat of interference with its super-expensive transmission equipment to announce its determination to boycott the Springbok Tour altogether. Of course, without television coverage of the matches it would hardly have been worth the Rugby Union proceeding.

Such a shame that in 1981 the authorities cared so little for the health and safety of New Zealanders that they were prepared to deploy thousands of Police and employ the armed forces to lay thousands of metres of barbed-wire to ensure that the rights of Rugby players and spectators were not infringed. Not only that, but if any protester attempted to prevent the Rugby matches from proceeding then they could expect to be cracked over the head with a Policeman’s baton.

Yep. The consequences for exercising your right to free expression back in 1981 could be severe. When the Springbok-Waikato game was called-off, the protesters who had made it onto the field were lucky to escape with their lives. Bottles and beer-cans rained down upon their heads leaving many of them bloodied and bruised. Spectators pouring out of the park then attacked the first-aid station treating the injured.

New Zealanders back then were horrified at the level of violence unleashed on the protesters. But that’s only because people were much less aware in 1981 that if people “talked shit” then they deserved to “get bashed”. It was nowhere near as well understood in those days that speaking-out against the prevailing ideas of the day constituted nothing less than an open invitation to everybody who subscribed to those ideas to have at the dissidents with fist and boot.

The 1980s were such unenlightened times. The appalling events  of that era could never happen in the Aotearoa-New Zealand of 2018. Our health and safety laws simply wouldn’t permit it!

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 August 2018.

Friday, 10 August 2018

The “Over-65 Vote” May Be “Funkier” That National Expects.

We Didn't Die Before We Grew Old: It is sobering to realise that by 2020 roughly half of the Baby Boom Generation will be drawing a pension. The “Over-65 Vote” will no longer be composed overwhelmingly of what Colin James dubbed “The RSA Generation”. More and more of these older voters will cherish youthful memories of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

PICTURE THIS. It’s a just a few weeks before the 2020 general election and social media is smoking. A superb piece of digital fakery has the National Party leader, Simon Bridges, inhaling enthusiastically. Over a Pink Floydesque soundtrack, Bridges exhales an impressive cloud of marijuana smoke. “My party is opposed to legalising pot” he explains, grinning broadly and winking knowingly. “But, if the people of New Zealand vote yes to dope in the forthcoming referendum, then a new National Party government will honour their decision and end cannabis prohibition within its first 100 days.” The clip ends with a rather glassy-eyed Bridges flashing his viewers the peace sign. The video’s tag line flashes up on the screen: Simon says, VOTE YES – AND NATIONAL.

Now, the prospect of a “funky” National Party mobilising the “Head Vote” will no doubt  strike many readers as a most unlikely proposition. For a start, the staunchly conservative Mr Bridges would certainly not take kindly to being portrayed as some sort of peace, love and mungbeans hippie. Less certain, however, is whether his campaign team would be all that bothered by such a clever piece of guerrilla advertising. Not all fake news is bad news.

It is, similarly, important to realise that by 2020 roughly half of the Baby Boom Generation will be drawing a pension. The “Over-65 Vote” will no longer be composed overwhelmingly of what Colin James dubbed “The RSA Generation”.

More and more of these older voters will cherish youthful memories of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.

On a darker note, their personal experience will have confirmed over and over again the brute reality that alcohol is capable of inflicting immeasurably more harm on families, friends and workmates than cannabis sativa.

Their children will point out the absurdity of preserving the market for increasingly deadly iterations of synthetic cannabis by prohibiting the cultivation and use of the real thing – a substance with no known fatalities to its credit.

The idea that the careers of their grandchildren may be jeopardised by engaging in what is, essentially, a harmless habit, will fill them with a mixture of exasperation and dread.

What’s more, as the Baby Boomers’ bodies begin to fail them and the aches and pains of old age make themselves known with ever-increasing intensity, the analgesic and stress-relieving qualities of cannabis will recommend themselves with ever-increasing force. Why should the law be interested in the consumption of a slice of hashish-infused chocolate-cake to relieve arthritis?

These are the considerations that National’s campaign strategists will be inviting Simon Bridges and his conservative colleagues to consider. Active Christian worship is now very much a minority sport. Likewise the misogyny and homophobia of those involuntarily celibate keyboard warriors who daily defile the Internet. The overwhelming majority of New Zealanders are men and women of good will and good humour. Those responsible for developing National’s election manifesto would do well to remember that.

Good will and good humour does not, however, signal soft-headedness. Sixty-five years and more on this earth has a habit of exposing the weaknesses of youthful propositions concerning human nature. Monty Python mercilessly satirised the notion that all individual failings could be laid at the door of “Society” by offering to “book them too”.

The explanation for the rock-solid character of National’s massive electoral support owes a great deal to older New Zealanders’ reluctant acceptance that many of the wounds which their less fortunate fellow citizens are expecting them to heal have almost certainly been self-inflicted. For the past forty years, doubt has been growing steadily in “Middle New Zealand” about the Welfare State’s capacity to improve the lives of either its “clients” or the society in which they live.

Bill English recognised this growing doubt and attempted to address it by means of his “Social Investment” initiatives. Much more work on these is required before they are ready to be rolled-out as the replacement for the First Labour Government’s “Social Security” model. There is, however, the whiff of the future about English’s ideas, so, if Simon Bridges is as wise as he is ambitious, then social investment will be the project into which he and his caucus colleagues hurl themselves in the run-up to 2020.

Bridges simple message to Middle New Zealand could be: “National’s not hard-hearted – just clear-headed”.

Except, of course, when it’s stoned.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 August 2018.

How The New Zealand Left Transformed Southern And Molyneux From Unknown Rightists Into Free Speech Heroes.

From Right-Wing Moles To Free Speech Mountains: Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux were confident that all they needed to do to spread their ideas in New Zealand was announce their intention of staging an event. The Left could be relied upon to do the rest.

WHAT A PITY there is no “Politburo” of the New Zealand Left. A central committee of knowledgeable and experienced left-wing strategists and organisers who could make decisions on behalf of the wider progressive movement. Had such a body existed when the news of the impending visit of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux broke, then what happened next would have been very different.

The Politburo would have perused the available information on the Canadian duo and very quickly realised that the best course of action for the New Zealand Left was to do absolutely nothing. No media releases. No posters. No protests. Certainly no threats to disrupt the speakers’ public meetings. In response to Southern and Molyneux, the New Zealand Left would do precisely zero, zip, nada, nothing.

Why? Because even a cursory glance at Southern’s and Molyneux’s modus operandi would have alerted the Politburo to the fact that protests and threats of disruption were absolutely indispensable to the success of the pair’s political touring. 

Without the threats of disruption from Peace Action Auckland, the Auckland Council would have had no grounds for denying Southern and Molyneux access to the Bruce Mason Theatre in Takapuna (along with every other council venue in Auckland!) on health and safety grounds. The meeting would have taken place and, if the Canadians were lucky, they might have merited a few brief paragraphs in the NZ Herald. Most Kiwis would have remained blissfully unaware that Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux even existed.

If provocateurs fail to provoke, do they make any sound at all?

We’ll never know. Because, of course, the New Zealand Left does not have a Politburo to provide it with sagacious strategic advice. It is a wild, anarchic melange of individuals and groups, united only by the fierce conviction that all those who challenge the phantasmagoria of sectional sensitivities which constitute the contemporary “progressive” movement must ipso facto be fascists whose every public utterance, being “hate speech”, must be suppressed – by any means necessary.

Knowing this, Southern and Molyneux would have been confident that all they needed to do to spread their ideas in New Zealand was announce their intention to hold a meeting. The Left could be relied upon to do the rest.

That the Canadians’ first infusion of power came from the Mayor of New Zealand’s largest city must, however, have struck them as more than usually fortuitous. Phil Goff’s naked assertion of the right to determine what the citizens of Auckland could and could not hear was bound to rouse the defenders of free expression to action. Better and better! Southern and Molyneux could now count on tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders googling their names and watching their YouTube channels.

The next step was to begin the game of “will they or won’t they be able to secure a private venue?”. With social media crackling with ideological thrust and counter-thrust and “anti-fascist” coalitions being announced, the next phase of the propaganda operation was ready to unfold.

It was a phase Southern and Molyneux could hardly lose. Either the secured venue would stand firm against the inevitable threats and the meeting would go ahead. Or, the venue’s owners would be subjected to such intolerable pressure that the meeting was cancelled. If the former eventuated, then it would inevitably attract hundreds, if not thousands, of screaming left-wing protesters. If it was cancelled, the Canadians could present themselves as the victims of left-wing intimidation. Either way, the mainstream news media would feel obligated to step into the story.

Which, with the Powerstation’s decision to first hire out, and then deny, its facilities to the duo, is exactly what happened.

Had the proposed meeting at the Bruce Mason Theatre gone ahead without incident, Southern and Molyneux would have been able to preach to, at most, 800 already converted enthusiasts. As they wing their way back to Canada, however, they will be congratulating themselves on being presented to the tens-of-thousands of Kiwis watching the television current affairs programme “Sunday” in prime-time.

Many socially-conservative New Zealanders, seeing the Canadians for the first time, will doubtless have wondered how anyone could be offended by two such telegenic and articulate individuals. The stridency of their opponents, by contrast, must have appeared strange – even slightly sinister.

Had it ever been the intention of the Left and its kindred souls in the Human Rights Commission to extend and strengthen New Zealand’s laws against “hate speech”, then its fruitless attempts to suppress the views of Southern and Molyneux can only have rendered such an exercise significantly more difficult.

The debate stirred up by the repeated denial of both public and private stages to the pair on account of threats and intimidation has placed the issue of free speech squarely on New Zealand’s political agenda. The Left will find it much harder, now, to sell its arguments in favour of limiting New Zealanders right to free expression that would have been the case if Southern and Molyneux had simply been allowed to come and go without incident.

The Powerstation, Auckland, graffitied.

The person who sprayed graffiti on the Powerstation’s walls over the weekend described Southern’s and Molyneux’s foray into New Zealand politics as the “FREE SPEECH - EULOGY TOUR”. Given that eulogies are only pronounced over the dead, the graffitist is clearly someone who believes the Left has either already killed free speech, or is intending to do so in the near future.

He, or she, is wrong on both counts.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 7 August 2018.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

“Who Are You Calling ‘Mate’, Mate?”

Newspeak? It is Washington’s new “Indo-Pacific” strategy, that is driving the current “Century of Mateship” propaganda exercise out of Canberra. Australia’s foundation and development as a collection of British colonies is being barefacedly elided in favour of the Orwellian contention that: “Australia and the United States are mates. Australia and the United States have been mates for 100 years. Australia and the United States will always be mates.”

NEW ZEALAND’S RELATIONSHIP with Australia is under considerable strain. Though they have yet to state their position openly, Australia’s leaders are clearly less than enthusiastic about the tradition of “automatic entry” for New Zealand’s economic migrants. It is certainly difficult to read the Australian Government’s denial of non-emergency health care, higher education and social welfare benefits to Kiwi citizens as anything other than a pretty strong signal of Australia’s rising impatience with the ANZAC myth of eternal “mateship”.

Indeed, if the programmes currently featuring on Sky TV’s “History Channel” are anything to go by, there is a concerted effort underway to attach the “mateship” label to Australia’s relationship with the United States. Under the rubric of “One Hundred Years of Mateship” Australian documentary-makers are advancing the far-from-convincing argument that the Commonwealth of Australia – one of the British Empire’s most important economic and strategic “dominions across the seas” – and the United States of America have been bosom buddies from the moment they clapped eyes on each other across the battlefields of the Western Front in 1918.

It is rare in the English-speaking nations of the twenty-first century to witness such a blatant attempt to re-write history. Up until the Second World War, elite Australia’s attachment to British imperialism was as fervent as it was unquestioning. The Aussie working-class, much of it Irish and Catholic, may have had little cause to love the English and the Scots-Irish Orangemen from Ulster, but its dangerously radical opinions were vigorously rejected by the “respectable” settlers of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. For these sons and daughters of the Empire, “Mother England” was the source of all economic, military and cultural power. The USA and its teeming millions were impertinent upstarts – not “mates”.

That all changed, of course, when a squadron of Japanese navy bombers, almost nonchalantly, sank the two great British battleships, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, off the Malaysian coast on 10 December 1941 – just three days after Japan’s surprise attack on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour. The fall of “impregnable” Singapore, which followed soon after, on 15 February 1942, brought home to Australians just how far away Mother England really was and forced them to shift their strategic gaze eastward to the United States. Every Australian understood that if the Japanese were going to be defeated, it would not be by the British, who had proved to be a busted-flush, but by the Americans. For most Aussies, therefore, the Yanks were more than their “mates” – they were Australia’s bloody saviours!

Post-World War II, however, the case for US-Australian “mateship” grows progressively stronger. The two countries have fought alongside each other in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. The view from Canberra is unequivocally that of a steadfast ally upon whom Washington can rely without the slightest hesitation or doubt. The Liberal Party Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, confirmed this subaltern status by describing his country as America’s “deputy-sheriff”.

Howard’s Liberal successor, Malcolm Turnbull, has developed this relationship to the point where Australia now sees itself as a geostrategic bridge between the Pacific and Indian oceans. The Australian landmass is thus being presented to Washington as not only an unassailable thoroughfare for American power, but also as a barrier against the further extension of Chinese influence into either ocean.

It is this, Washington’s new “Indo-Pacific” strategy, that is, almost certainly, driving Foxtel’s “100 Years of Mateship” propaganda exercise on the History Channel. Australia’s foundation and development as a collection of British colonies is being barefacedly elided in favour of the Orwellian contention that: “Australia and the United States are mates. Australia and the United States have been mates for 100 years. Australia and the United States will always be mates.”

Which just leaves New Zealand, Australia’s former “mate”, positioned strategically off the lucky country’s eastern seaboard like an unsinkable aircraft carrier which has, unaccountably, pushed all its fighter aircraft into the sea. An unreliable aircraft carrier, whose unreliable crew has, for more than 30 years, been bloody rude to Australia’s best mates – the Americans. A crew which insists on taking shore leave in Brisbane and Sydney and Melbourne where it spreads its downright subversive views about the rights of indigenous people and nuclear disarmament and practical feminism and need to do something big and meaningful about climate change among Australia’s dangerously persuadable citizens.

Right-wing Australia would like nothing more than to close its borders to these damned annoying Kiwis. Unfortunately, that would involve tearing up the Australian-New Zealand Closer Economic Relationship and toppling New Zealand into a full-scale economic and social crisis.

Now, there are some Aussies who’d like to say “tough luck, Kiwi” and walk away. Fortunately for New Zealand, however, there are wiser heads in the discussion who warn that a New Zealand in the grip of a life-or-death struggle for survival might feel it had no choice but to extend the hand of “mateship” to its largest remaining trading partner. That if Australia goes on mistreating Kiwis, then it just might wake up one morning to discover that unsinkable aircraft carrier across the Tasman Sea bristling with Chinese bombers.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 3 August 2018.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Politics Of Cannabis Law Reform.

Is Cannabis Prohibition About To End? No, the thing that wrong with the current picture of cannabis law reform is that Labour isn’t in it. What? Yep. The Justice Minister, Andrew Little, when questioned about the Government’s likely response to a “Yes” vote in the forthcoming referendum, made it abundantly clear that the straight person at this particular student party is Labour.

OKAY, SO LET’S get this straight. In last year’s post-election negotiations, the Greens asked for – and got – a referendum on ending cannabis prohibition. Which means that if New Zealanders vote “Yes”, then the Greens will sponsor a change in the law to give effect to that result.

So far, so good.

It gets better, though, because NZ First have been keen supporters of referenda forever. (They don’t call them populists for nothing!) So, if New Zealand votes in favour of dope, then the NZ Firsters will 1) let loose a very long sigh, and then 2) call in the law draughtsperson.

Great!

Yes, it is, but you ain’t heard nothing yet. When asked if the National Party would honour the result of the referendum, Simon Bridges replied in the affirmative. Simon says that if pot is what Kiwis want, then pot is what Kiwis will get.

So, that’s game-over, isn’t it? If a majority of Kiwis vote to end cannabis prohibition, then a majority of the House of Representatives is pledged to making it happen. Time to dust-off that old hookah-pipe!

Or, as stoners used to say, way back in the day: “Solid!”

But, wait a minute, aren’t we missing something here?

No, it’s not David Seymour. As a good libertarian, the Act Party’s sole parliamentary representative (assuming he’s still there after the 2020 election) is bound to vote in favour of ending cannabis prohibition. The state, after all, has no business criminalising behaviour which is, to all intents and purposes, victimless.

No, the thing that wrong with this picture is that Labour isn’t in it.

What?

Yep. The Justice Minister, Andrew Little, when questioned about the Government’s likely response to a “Yes” vote in the forthcoming referendum, made it abundantly clear that the straight person at this particular student party is Labour.

Huh?

Oh yes, it’s Labour. And if that surprises you, then you haven’t been paying attention. Labour hasn’t had a progressive position on the issue of cannabis law reform since Noel Rayner persuaded the Otago Regional Council of the Labour Party to vote in favour of legalising marijuana way back in the 1980s. Hell, if Rob Muldoon hadn’t called a snap election in 1984, it’s even possible that Labour’s Annual Conference might have passed Noel’s remit. Labour was a pretty liberal outfit in the early 1980s: anti-nuclear, pro-gay rights, open to all kinds of progressive ideas. So, who knows?

What has become clear in the intervening thirty-five years is that while Labour has remained a progressive champion of LGBTQI rights, it has grown increasingly conservative on the issue of drugs.

Partly, this is a reflection of Labour’s uneasiness with everything Green. Nandor Tanczos’ energetic promotion of cannabis law reform and the response it elicited from the young and the marginalised in the 1999 election seriously freaked Labour out.

These were not the sort of people Helen Clark, Michael Cullen and Phil Goff wanted to be associated with. The slow but relentless pushback against Tanczos from the conservative establishment – especially secondary-school principals – further convinced Labour that, when it came to legalising pot, political discretion was the better part of principled valour.

Labour’s ultra-cautious approach was confirmed by the Greens themselves when, in election after election, cannabis law reform was allowed to slip down the party’s list of priorities.

The other explanation for Labour’s conservative line on drugs emerges from the party’s dramatically changed relationship with the poor and the marginalised. Where once the Labour Party had been the sword and shield of the disadvantaged in New Zealand society, by the turn of the twentieth century it had become, in effect, their case-worker.

The poor and the marginalised were now a client-class to be monitored and managed: the responsibility of precisely the same managers and professionals who had come to dominate the NZ Labour Party. Drug-taking was just one among many dysfunctional behaviours in need of middle-class intervention.

Far from promoting the liberalisation of drug laws, Labour contributed significantly to the dramatic expansion of the state’s powers of intervention in the lives of those Kiwis deemed to have deviated from the “caring” agencies’ expectations.

No surprise, then, that Labour is resisting the popular movement in favour of liberalising New Zealand’s drug laws – especially those relating to cannabis. The dog’s breakfast that is the coalition’s bill on medical marijuana is not the fault of NZ First, it’s a reflection of the impulse to control that grips so many members of the Labour caucus. National’s bill is better than Labour’s because its MPs are not so deeply enmeshed in the professional-managerial norms of the welfare state’s bureaucratic machinery.

Cannabis law reformers should, therefore, be on the their guard against any attempt to bring the referendum forward. Such a move would be an admission by Labour that it wants no part of the mobilising effect a well organised reform campaign could unleash. An effect which would very likely increase the Green vote in ways prejudicial to Labour remaining the dominant partner in the next progressive government.

Similar vigilance will be necessary when it comes to determining the nature of any public “education” campaign prior to the referendum. Much will turn on who is given the job of overseeing the debate between prohibitionists and reformers. Whoever is given this job must be able to resist the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures of the forces seeking to uphold the status quo.

That it should be Labour standing in the way of cannabis law reform tells us much about the political forces currently shaping our society. Lenin argued that all politics could be reduced to just two words: Who? Whom? On this particular issue it is vital to keep as clear as possible the distinction between those parties determined to exercise control over people’s private pleasures and those who are intensely relaxed about New Zealanders having fun.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 2 August 2018.