Thursday 31 October 2019

National's Going Gangbusters.

Criminal Enterprises: Gangs are not welfare institutions. Nor are they a substitute for the family their members never had. They are ruthless, violent, criminal money-making machines. That is all.

OKAY, first-things-first. Gangs exist for one purpose – and only one. They are a sure-fired, time-tested institution for making crime pay – and pay big. National is right to go after them, not only because most voters will cheer them on for doing so, but also because gangs injure individuals and damage society. Pushing any other kind of argument simply makes National’s job easier. “Look at the Left”, Simon Bridges will crow. “Soft on crime. The gangster’s best friend!”

In their essence, gangs are based on the notion that there is safety in numbers. This doesn’t just apply to violent conflict where, obviously, the more “soldiers” you bring to the fight the better chance you have of winning it. Safety in numbers also applies to practical criminal behaviour.

Hierarchy is the key. At the top, a handful of leaders, thoroughly insulated from actual offending, give orders to “patched” crime managers who, in their turn, send out wannabe gangsters to do the actual selling, thieving, hustling, whatever. All proceeds flow upwards. Those at the bottom get the least, those at the top the most. Patched membership of gangs is strictly rationed to preserve the organisation’s essential pyramidal structure.

A gang can only remain effective if its hierarchy is respected. Absolute loyalty is demanded and ruthlessly enforced. Among gang members and associates no person is more despised than the “nark”. This animosity is entirely rational. Nothing brings down those at the top of a gang hierarchy more effectively than an informer.

Keeping the hierarchy safe explains the aura of danger and violence that surrounds every effective criminal gang. It is a feature, not a bug, because without the ever-present threat of serious and/or fatal violence – against outsiders who would do it harm, and insiders who dare to flout its discipline, the gang would swiftly fall victim to its criminal competitors, or the Police.

Gangs are not welfare institutions. Nor are they a substitute for the family their members never had. They are ruthless, violent, criminal money-making machines. That is all.

National knows this. Its members and supporters see the effects of gang activity all the time. Small businesses and farmers fall victim to their depredations almost every day. Local professionals in the provinces see their effects everywhere. In their surgeries, if they’re doctors. In their classrooms, if they’re school principals. On the town streets, if they’re the local Police Sergeant. They talk about it grimly, over whiskies, at the local Rotary Club – and complain about it loudly to their local National Party MP.

In the major cities it’s even worse. These provide the most lucrative markets for criminal enterprise: for drugs; for stolen goods; for all those other things that “a guy’s gotta have” – but which the state forbids. The cost to metropolitan New Zealand of these gang activities is huge. The methamphetamine trade, in particular, destroys lives, careers, families, entire neighbourhoods. Its victims are responsible for an alarming percentage of serious theft and fraud. Inevitably, their moral, mental and physical deterioration imposes heavy burdens on our health and corrections systems. Those who see methamphetamine’s effects up-close: the resident doctors, nurses, police officers, probation officers and social workers who clean up its mess; despise the gangs who are the drug’s principal distributors. The gangsters also see the enormous harm caused by their offending – but they just don’t care.

So, if National knows this – and frames its policy accordingly – why don’t Labour and the Greens? What happens inside their caucuses when someone like Greg O’Connor, or Willie Jackson, or Stuart Nash stands up and tells them what the gangs are really like? Obviously, their caucus colleagues do not nod their heads and say: “Thanks guys, it’s always good to get the perspective of people with personal experience of the harm gangs do to individuals and communities. What we all need to do now is come up with an effective response.” It can only be supposed that a majority of Labour and Green MPs respond to the anti-gang attitudes of their “right-wing” colleagues with the stock answers of Sociology 101.

When “Big Norm” Kirk promised to “Take the Bikes off the Bikies” in 1972, it wasn’t because he had heard the same sort of slogans repeated endlessly throughout his political career and thought it advisable to do the same. Forty-seven years ago, Kirk’s promise had the punch of the new. That’s because bikie gangs were new – as were the Maori gangs emerging from the rapidly growing provincial industrial towns and urban ghettoes. He couldn’t do it, of course. Putting an end to gangs wasn’t any easier then than it is now.

If overseas experience is any guide, there are two ways of dealing with gangs. The easiest way, adopted by Labour nemesis, Rob Muldoon, is for the government to buy them off. Let them do what they do, but always on the proviso that no “civilians” get hurt. Selling cannabis to their neighbours and their kids – that’s fine. But stay out of the city centres and the leafy suburbs – and stop providing the news media with lurid headlines. The Buy-Off has its merits as a solution, but in the end it is no match for criminal greed. Inevitably, the gangs re-emerge: bigger, better resourced and much more dangerous.

The hard way to beat the gangs is through solid, old-fashioned police work – aided whenever possible by augmented legal powers and the new technology required to make dedicated policing effective. That’s how the FBI brought down the New York Mafia. That, and by using the information obtained through advances in electronic surveillance to apprehend and then “flip” lower level gangsters: promising them immunity and a new identity in return for spilling the beans on the “wise guys” at the top of the hierarchy.

National appears to have chosen the hard way. Yes, forcing suspected gangsters to prove that they are not living off the proceeds of crime before accessing welfare payments is a tough policy. But these are tough guys. Tough – and smart. It always pays to remember that the individuals in question are criminals – well-versed in the art of ripping-off any system incautious enough to offer them something for nothing. Shorn of all its political bells and dog-whistles, National’s policy, by forcing gangsters to rely solely on the income derived from their offending, should make them easier to put away.

It’s not subtle, and it’s not pretty. But, you know what? It just might work.

This essay was posted simultaneously on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Thursday, 31 October 2019.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

To Save Democracy, We Must Make The Media Our Own.

New Zealanders' Television: Obliterated almost completely from New Zealanders’ collective memory is the amazing collection of creative talent which was all-too-briefly assembled in the purpose-built Avalon television studios (above) situated ten miles north of the capital. If this period is recalled at all it is only for the purposes of laughing at the posh pronunciation and absurd hairstyles of the era’s ridiculously clunky (by contemporary standards) broadcasters.

WHO WILL RESCUE TV3? Almost certainly not the private sector. Not only is the commercial free-to-air broadcasting model broken, but TV3 remains burdened by its previous owners’ insatiable appetite for debt. These formidable liabilities have fatally undermined the network’s return to profitability. Even without the migration of advertising revenue to Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google and YouTube it would have continued to bleed money. Given these disadvantages, the probability of TV3 finding a private sector buyer is close to zero. Which leaves the obligation to rescue TV3 resting squarely with the New Zealand state – which is to say, with us.

Not that you’ll hear this, the most obvious long-term solution, articulated by many of those speculating on the fate of New Zealand’s most innovative and downright bolshie television network. “Nationalisation” is one of those words it is forbidden to utter in twenty-first century New Zealand without spitting on the ground. Public ownership is almost always rendered by media pundits as “government owned” or “state controlled” – as if Jacinda Ardern, in addition to being New Zealand’s prime minister, would instantly become TV3’s CEO and Editor-in-Chief. Accordingly, public ownership is branded unequivocally as a “bad thing” – the first stumble down the slippery slope that leads to Putin’s state-owned and government controlled propaganda network.

1970s Television: More Than Flared Jeans And Disco.

AS IS SO OFTEN the case in any discussion about who should own what in New Zealand, the historical ignorance of the younger generation stands athwart any progress towards non-neoliberal solutions. Fed horror stories about prime ministers vetting broadcast journalists’ questions and news bulletins crafted in the offices of the Tourist & Publicity Department, younger media players know nothing of the extraordinary creativity, vibrancy and independence of publicly-owned television in the late-1960s and 70s.

The latter decade, which coincided with the introduction of a second publicly-owned television channel, witnessed an extraordinary flowering of news and current affairs, documentary, drama and music programmes. For this very reason, the enemies of public ownership spare no effort in casting the 1970s as the decade that taste forgot – notable only for its flared jeans and disco. Obliterated almost completely from New Zealanders’ collective memory is the amazing collection of creative talent which was all-too-briefly assembled in the purpose-built Avalon television studios situated ten miles north of the capital. If this period is recalled at all it is only for the purposes of laughing at the posh pronunciation and absurd hairstyles of the era’s ridiculously clunky (by contemporary standards) broadcasters.

It is no accident that New Zealand’s golden era of television coincided with the changes initiated by the Norman Kirk-led Labour Government of 1972-1975. The freedom and independence that marked the broadcasting of the mid-1970s reiterated Kirk’s re-definition of New Zealand nationhood – especially his emphasis on steering a new and independent course diplomatically, economically and culturally.

The assertion of government ownership and state control, so often derided by the critics of public ownership, came not from the last democratic-socialist Labour Government, but from the Rob Muldoon-led National Government that ousted it. New Zealand the way Rob wanted it was all about hugging the fictions of the post-war era ever tighter to the ‘RSA Generation’s’ bosom. That the forces of creativity and innovation were injurious to the existing order of things was a prime-ministerial view of which public televisions’ bosses were left in not the slightest doubt. For Rob and his ‘Mob”, the proper focus of state television was the status-quo.

The Revolution That Wasn’t.

THE OVERTHROW OF MULDOONISM in 1984 brought a new status quo. To those broadcasters forced to endure the Big Chill of the late-1970s and early-1980s, the new order had a revolutionary feel – they even made a series about it. The reality, however, was that the new ‘Labour’ government’s ‘free-market’ broadcasting regime was way more insistent on ideological conformity than Muldoon’s government had ever dared to be. Richard Prebble’s Broadcasting Act of 1989 buried ‘public service broadcasting’ forever. A commercially-oriented, ratings-driven TVNZ was Rogernomics’ gift to the shattered remnants of what had once been New Zealand’s vibrant public media.

That’s why the long-awaited third television network was so warmly welcomed. TV3, by some unanticipated quirk of late-capitalist cultural logic displayed more creativity, innovation and independence than the ideologically straightjacketed TVNZ. For the past 30 years, the privately-owned TV3 network has, heroically and paradoxically, filled the vacuum created by the deliberate destruction of public service broadcasting in 1989.

Certainly, there was an attempt to re-inject public service ideals into the state broadcaster under the Clark-led Labour Government of 1999-2008. Unfortunately, the commercial ethos was so deeply entrenched in TVNZ that removing it would require, in the powerful metaphor of veteran broadcaster Ian Fraser “a neutron bomb” – i.e. something that would keep the infrastructure intact while wiping out all the people inside it. The TVNZ ‘Charter’ and its good intentions did not survive the 2008 change of government.

Enter Democracy’s Digital Gravediggers.

IN THE TEN YEARS since then both the global and the local media environment has been utterly transformed. Technological change and the radical cultural responses it has prompted have disrupted not only newspaper publishing and broadcasting, but also the democratic political system they did so much, historically, to construct. While the future of digital communication is assured, the same cannot be said for the gathering and dissemination of news. In the words of The Spinoff’s Duncan Greive:

“Journalism is different. It has been indirectly funded, through advertising, since its birth. Advertising no longer sustains it, nor will it ever again. The new advertising giants make no journalism, nor have any interest in doing so. We are facing a New Zealand in the not too distant future in which information becomes a tightly held and costly commodity (the new premium Herald is $200 a year, the NBR twice that), with access to it limited to those who have the facility to pay for it.”

Put more bluntly, the not-too-distant future will not be democratic.

That does not have to be the way things develop in New Zealand. Democracy and journalism, cultural creativity and innovation, can survive and thrive: but only if sufficient political will is summoned to the task of transitioning the newspaper and television industries out of their current configurations and into publicly managed structures dedicated to preserving the critical thinking and free speaking so essential to the practice and defence of democracy.

Freedom & Funding

OF COURSE the Duncan Greives of this world will object that taking current affairs journalism, and cultural production generally, under the wing of the state will produce exactly the same reduction in diversity that the “pompous relics” at the Commerce Commission deemed so injurious to the public good in relation to the proposed merger of NZME and Stuff. But is that really the only outcome? Is that what actually happened back in the days when television was principally funded from the public purse?

The answer is “No.” The producer-driven television of the 1970s generated programmes that were as quirky as they were challenging. Ranging from the still much-beloved Country Calendar, to the ground-breaking historical drama series, The Governor, the output of the two publicly-owned television channels was formidable. Editorial freedom, moderated by professional responsibility and a strong understanding of and connection with their viewers, empowered New Zealand’s television producers to turn out programmes of impressive quality and impact.

Broadcast live out of the Avalon studios, The Dean/Edwards Show – featuring Brian Edwards and another British import, Michael Dean – anticipated the big, live-audience shows of what came to be called “reality” television. Perhaps their most memorable programme was devoted to the power of advertising. With wicked inventiveness, the production team hired an advertising agency and the actor Ian Mune to “sell” the Cooks & Stewards Union (infamous for going on strike during the school holidays) which they did with extraordinary and highly revealing effectiveness.

All that is required to generate the most stunning television is editorial freedom and the funding necessary to make it real. It is precisely this magical combination that explains the runaway success of HBO and Netflix-commissioned shows.

Public Media, Not State Media.

THE BEST WAY to secure the full benefits of public media is to ensure that it is firmly embedded in the local community. Once again, young New Zealanders have no memory of the time when each of the four main centres boasted an extensive regional television service. Not only did these regional production centres screen their own local news and current affairs, but also produced shows for broadcast on the nationwide network. The award-winning children’s programme “Spot On”, for example, was produced in TV One’s Dunedin studios.

The social, political and cultural impact of the hundreds of staff employed by these regional production centres was considerable. A healthy dose of irreverence and anarchic joy was injected into the inward-looking provincial communities their presence so thoroughly disrupted. With the broader public acting as their patrons, they unleashed the energy of art and the power of critical thinking against conservative regional cliques grown accustomed to smothering both.

Such was the public – the social-democratic – media culture that Rogernomics, Ruthanasia and the whole neoliberal revolution swept away.

Rebuilding Trust In Public Ownership.

AH, YES, but as Kit Marlowe says in The Jew of Malta, “that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead”. For a while at least a resurrected system of public media ownership would need to be protected by some pretty sturdy walls of public accountability. The taxpayers would have to be assured that their new media system was, as Fox News boasts, “fair and balanced” and that bodies existed to make sure it was.

At both the regional and national level this could be achieved by appointing boards that were genuinely representative of the communities they served. Like the boards-of-directors of the long-gone Trustee Savings Banks, the governing bodies of these new media organisations could include nominees from the business community, the trade unions, educational institutions and communities of faith, along with representatives of management and staff. Such bodies would be there to protect not only the rights of the audience, but also the editorial freedom and independence of producers and journalists. These guardians would, themselves, be guarded by the provisions of statute law.

A Matter Of Political Will.

NONE OF THESE CHANGES will be forthcoming from the present government. Broadcasting Minister, Kris Faafoi, has already made it clear that he and his Cabinet colleagues have not the slightest intention of riding to TV3’s rescue. On the left of New Zealand electoral politics in 2019 there is neither the political will, nor any real political understanding of the vital role played by the media in both preserving and fostering a democratic culture. Like practically all politicians, Labour, Green and NZ First MPs regard the media in general, and journalists in particular, as the enemy. Though most of them had more delicacy than to say so out loud, Winston Peters’ “Good riddance!” response to TV3’s imminent demise was, almost certainly, their own.

The truly radical insight of the Kirk Government was that a genuinely independent public broadcasting system, driven by a desire to serve the public good, and insulated from the tutelage of the advertisers’ almighty dollar, would always end up serving the interests of the citizens it empowered – and hence the interests of the political party most dedicated to their welfare. Only when those same citizens grasp the urgent democratic necessity of rescuing not just TV3 but the entire New Zealand news media, will they be in a position to infuse their parliamentary representatives with the political will to make it happen.

If you don’t like where your country is right now, you should perhaps reflect upon how vital it was for the people who brought you here to first corrupt and then break the media institutions whose democratic duty it was to warn New Zealanders about where they were being taken – and why.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 25 October 2019.

Saturday 26 October 2019

Putting The Check In Right-Wing Prisoners’ Mail.

If we are content to muzzle those with whom we disagree today, we should not be surprised when they muzzle us tomorrow.

IT ALWAYS STARTS SMALL. Colin James, in his masterful The Quiet Revolution, reminds us that what ended as “Rogernomics” began with the humble potato. National’s free-marketeers rebelled at a departmental proposal to regulate the size, shape and quality of New Zealand’s potato crop. It was a small victory, easily missed, but the arguments deployed to win it were destined to sweep all before them in the years to come. That’s why it pays to keep your ears peeled for arguments that sound a little off. What seems preposterous one year has a nasty habit of being enshrined in law the next.

By the time you read these words one of those seriously preposterous arguments will indeed have become law. With the combined support of the Labour, Green, and NZ First parties, the Corrections Amendment Bill sailed through its Third Reading in the House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon.

I wish I could tell you that the National Party fought a lonely rear-guard action against its passage, but that would be a lie. Because the incident which prompted this law change involved the alleged perpetrator of the Christchurch Mosque Massacres, no politician seeking re-election would dream of turning it into a cause célèbre.

When a letter penned by the alleged Christchurch Shooter was mistakenly permitted to leave Paremoremo Maximum Security Prison, and make its way into the hands of the accused’s white supremacist supporters, and from there, inevitably, onto the Internet, an immediate cry went up for increased legal restrictions on prisoners’ right to communicate with the outside world.

No matter that the power already existed to censor or withhold prisoners’ mail; nor that the failure to exercise that power was Corrections NZ, it was decided by the Coalition Government that the law must be strengthened.


The truly sinister answer would appear to be that the administrative failure on the part of Corrections NZ offered a wonderful opportunity to place upon the statute books, for the first time, vastly expanded legal powers to restrict New Zealand citizens’ and residents’ freedom of expression. With the passage of the Corrections Amendment Bill, content which, in the judgement of the prison authorities, discriminates against any person on the basis of race, religious belief, sexual orientation, sex, marital status, disability, age, political opinion and employment status will constitute grounds for censoring and/or withholding a prisoner’s mail.

What’s wrong with that? The communications of extremists and terrorists, especially those responsible for events such as the Christchurch Mosque Massacres, have the power to inspire similar acts of extreme violence elsewhere in the world. Of course they must be withheld!

Indeed they must. Any prison charged with detaining a terrorist of such lethality must exercise extreme vigilance. All of their communications must be carefully studied by experts whose prime responsibility must be keeping the public safe. That’s what should have happened with the alleged Christchurch Shooter. The powers to censor and withhold his letters were there – they simply were not used.

There is, however, a very big difference between a prisoner like the Christchurch Shooter and your common-or-garden variety criminal with right-wing ideas. It’s a difference the new legislation declines to recognise. In addition to being punished for the crimes they have committed, right-wing inmates are to be further punished by having their internationally recognised right to communicate with the outside world made subject to the political judgements of their jailers. Offensive material published by persons living outside prison will continue to escape censorship. Prisoners’ opinions, on the other hand, may be legally suppressed.

How fortunate for the world that the First Amendment to the American Constitution made it impossible for Alabama’s prison authorities to avail themselves of legislation such as New Zealand’s Parliament has just passed. Had they possessed in 1963 the legal authority we have vouchsafed to our prison wardens in 2019, can it be doubted that Dr Martin Luther King’s celebrated “Letter From Birmingham City Jail” would never have seen the light of day? A few sentences from that letter bear repeating:

Dr Martin Luther King in the Birmingham City Jail, April 1963.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

If we are content to muzzle those with whom we disagree today, we should not be surprised when they muzzle us tomorrow.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 October 2019.

Tuesday 22 October 2019

Paying For Our Pakeha "Guilt" And "Privilege".

Shouldn't That Be: "Wrong White Crowd"? Rather than apportion guilt, would it not have been wiser for the makers of Land Of The Long White Cloud to accept that the Pakeha of 2019 are not – and never will be – “Europeans”? Just as contemporary Maori are not – and can never be again – the Maori who inhabited these islands before Cook’s arrival. Is it not the case that both peoples are victims of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt?

PERHAPS THE BEST WAY to assess the quality of the NZ Herald’s “Land of the Long White Cloud” is by studying Tom Clarke’s characterisation of James Cook. Clarke begins by making Cook a member of the British aristocracy. He gives him the accent of Hugh Laurie’s Bertie Wooster, along with most of his mannerisms. Clarke then proceeds to deliver a false description of Cook’s mission – complete with jokes about planting flags and claiming countries. All done with a smile, of course, in the interests of lightening what the series’ creators clearly believe to be a very serious matter. Even so, if you’re trying to dispel some of the myths surrounding New Zealand’s origins, then falsifying the historical record would seem to be a very peculiar way of going about it.

Because James Cook was not a member of the British aristocracy, he was a plain-speaking Yorkshireman of humble origin. Tom Clarke should, therefore, have based his accent more on the characters of Heartbeat and Last of the Summer Wine than on Jeeves & Wooster. Indeed, had Clarke bothered to read anything written by a reputable historian concerning Cook’s voyage of 1769 (Anne Salmond’s springs to mind) he would have encountered a clever, considered and compassionate man of (for his time) unusually enlightened opinions. Trouble is, satirising that sort of Englishmen would have required more of the actor than he was either able, or permitted, to give.

Clarke’s representation of Cook does, however, speak directly to the profound intellectual weakness at the heart of this so-called documentary about “white guilt”. The expression “begging the question” is often used erroneously to indicate a failure to raise the obvious and most important question/s about an issue. While LOTLWC certainly fits this description, it also conforms to the expression’s classical meaning. LOTLWC begs the question because the conclusion arrived at by the series’ makers – that “whites” are guilty – is derived entirely from their original premise – that “white guilt” exists.

It certainly explains why the makers selected the eight individuals whose opinions constitute the series’ content. Originally pitched to NZ On Air (the series’ principal funder) under the working title “After White Guilt”, the first of the six recorded episodes contains not the slightest hint that attaching the word “guilt” to New Zealanders of European origin might be in any way problematic.

LOTLWC simply assumes that the Pakeha settlement of New Zealand was a crime. (Why else use the word “guilt”?) Accordingly, New Zealand’s colonial history is presented as the work of murderers and plunderers. The descendants of these criminals – the Pakeha New Zealanders of 2019 – find themselves cast in the role of people living off the proceeds of crime: receivers of stolen goods. The suggestion, so far unspoken, but lurking just beneath the surface of the participants’ remarks, is that these crimes must be acknowledged and atoned for, and the stolen property returned to its rightful owners.

One must assume that the participants in and the creators of LOTLWC really are as naïve and innocent of political reality as they appear. To assume otherwise casts them in the role of conscious and deliberate inciters of hatred and division between Pakeha and Maori – to the point of risking full-scale civil war. Nothing in the history of the human species suggests that people can be persuaded to part with their property, or their autonomy, without a fight. Nor does the historical record attest that such wholesale dispossession can be accomplished except in the aftermath of their complete and unalterable defeat.

“But that is exactly what we are saying!”, one can imagine LOTLWC participants expostulating. “That is what our ancestors are guilty of – and we are the beneficiaries of their crimes!”

Except, when viewed in its entirety, the history of human occupation in these islands suggests that what happened between Maori and Pakeha in the middle of the nineteenth century was far from exceptional. For the best part of 500 years, the killing of human-beings and the appropriation of the survivors’ property and autonomy, had been the norm. All the Europeans brought to the game were more effective weapons and superior tools – both of which the Maori acquired and mastered in a very short space of time.

Indeed, what distinguished the 70 years between the arrival of Cook in 1769 and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, was an astonishing escalation in warfare, killing, dispossession and dislocation – not at the hands of the Europeans, but by the indigenous people. When Cook arrived, New Zealand boasted approximately 100,000 inhabitants. By the end of the Musket Wars, in the mid-1830s, between 20,000 to 30,000 Maori had disappeared. The Europeans were impressed, but not surprised, they’d been doing the same things to one another for the best part of 3,000 years!

When the Pakeha settlers finally launched their own war of conquest in the Waikato in 1863, not only could they rely upon the 12,000 soldiers sent from Britain to support the colonial government, but also on the military support of Maori tribes unwilling to turn the clock back to the time before Cook’s arrival. They wagered on their people being strong enough to survive te riri Pakeha, the white man’s anger, and his greed, and they were right. Two-hundred-and-fifty years after Cook’s arrival, the Maori population of New Zealand is five times what it was in 1769. That is not a claim which many of the planet’s indigenous peoples can make – especially those inhabiting its temperate zones.

The brute facts of New Zealand history suggest that if it’s blame Maori and Pakeha are looking for, then there’s plenty to go around. Rather than apportion guilt, would it not be wiser to accept that the Pakeha of 2019 are not – and never will be – “Europeans”? Just as contemporary Maori are not – and can never be again – the Maori who inhabited these islands before Cook’s arrival. Would it not, therefore, be wiser to accept, finally, that both peoples are victims of historical forces too vast for blame, too permanent for guilt?

Which immediately raises another interesting question: Why NZ On Air felt moved to promise the makers of LOTLWC (aka “After White Guilt”) close to $140,000 of public funding? As already noted, the series is not an exploration of the way in which Pakeha have responded to a dramatic expansion in the range and depth of historical understanding in New Zealand – that would have been a very useful exercise to have supported. It is, instead, the result of taxpayers coughing-up a lot of cash for eight individuals, all subscribing to an extreme and highly tendentious interpretation of New Zealand history, to lecture them on what awful people their ancestors were, and what they should be doing to assuage their “guilt” and off-load their “privilege”.

That $140,000 question deserves an answer, especially given the fact that LOTLWC’s sponsoring institution, the New Zealand Herald, was founded in December 1863, five months after after the invasion of the Waikato, for the express purpose of ensuring that the colonial government (also based in Auckland) did everything possible to extinguish the “native rebellion” and seize the “rebels’” lands. In the light of that little snippet of New Zealand history, would it not have been more appropriate for NZME to assuage its “Pakeha Guilt” out of its own pocket?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 22 October 2019.

A Bodyguard of Truths.

One, Two, Many Truths: With the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in 1991, the universities of the West found themselves saddled with a new mission. With their ideological competitors now soundly defeated they were no longer required to demonstrate the superiority of capitalist values. Their job now was to cement in place the crushing victory of free-market capitalism. Intellectual pluralism was out and unchallengeable dogma was in. As far as the academic community was concerned, it was a case of: “We are all commissars now!”

WHAT’S HAPPENED to our universities? That is the question which New Zealanders educated in the universities of the 1970s and early 1980s are asking themselves. Their search for answers has been prompted by the failure of at least two of New Zealand’s academic institutions to defend the principle of free speech on their campuses. Such a dramatic departure from the academic values of the second half of the twentieth century, while disturbing, is surely inseparable from the many other changes that have transformed our universities over the course of the past 35 years. What’s happening on today’s campuses has been brewing for a long time.

What sort of world was it that required our universities to be centres of intellectual pluralism: places where different ideologies contended with one another openly and without undue rancour? First and foremost it was a world in which the struggle between market-driven and market-suppressing ideologies was ongoing. In the 1970s and well into the 1980s the outcome of the Cold War was still in doubt. Vast swathes of the planet and hundred-of-millions of workers remained off-limits to capitalism. No matter how truncated and unfree, there was still an alternative to the free market – and, as any good capitalist will tell you, competition enhances performance.

Universities, like all the other important institutions of capitalist society, had to demonstrate the superiority of capitalist values over communist ideology. If Soviet universities were hidebound bastions of unchallengeable dogma where intellectual unorthodoxy wasn’t simply unwise but punishable by dismissal, imprisonment, or worse, then the West’s universities had to be showcases of intellectual ferment and free debate.

Censorship and the suppression of free speech might be attempted by misguided university authorities (as they were in the early 1960s on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley) but all such attempts were stoutly resisted by staff and students. The Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” marked the beginning of the campus upheavals that made students a by-word for radical dissent throughout the 1960s and 70s.

With the collapse of “actually existing socialism” in 1991, the universities of the West found themselves saddled with a new mission. With their ideological competitors now soundly defeated they were no longer required to demonstrate the superiority of capitalist values. Their job now was to cement in place the crushing victory of free-market capitalism. Intellectual pluralism was out and unchallengeable dogma was in. As far as the academic community was concerned, it was a case of: “We are all commissars now!”

For students, the new regime was even more rigorous. The intellectual leaders of free-market capitalism had noted the effects of heavily state-subsidised or even “free” tertiary education on students. From the perspective of the free-market capitalist, giving young people the space and time to think about the world they were about to enter had proved a near fatal mistake. High fees and crippling student loans were their answer to the radical dissent of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Serendipitously, the policy of “User-Pays” turned out to be a genuine “twofer”. Not only did it transform students from scholars into paying customers; but also, by requiring university staff to give these “customers” what they were paying for, it undermined academic freedom. Students won’t pay for exams that are “too hard”, or enrol in courses that are of “no use”.

That only left the pesky problem of “Truth”. Traditionally, this was the whole point of attending university: learning how to approach, ever more closely, the true nature of things. For the free-market capitalist, however, the only truth worth pursuing was the truth of free-market capitalism. But, how to establish that truth without encouraging the growth of a counter-truth? That was the problem.

The survival strategy free-market capitalism came up with was nothing less than brilliant – and astonishingly successful. To protect the brutal realities of capitalism it was necessary to conceal them behind one, two, many realities. Turn the whole idea of a single truth into a monstrous and authoritarian notion – like the communist ideology of the now defunct Soviet Union. What this meant in practical terms was that while in the STEM disciplines 2+2 had to remain 4; in the humanities 2+2 could equal whatever the hell you liked!

Henceforth, and in perfect conformity with the individualistic ethos of free-market capitalism, each human-being would be given the right to determine their own truths. Naturally, these would be derived from their own insight and experience. The sum total of these insights and experiences constituted an individual’s “identity”. Protecting one’s personal truths and protecting one’s identity were thus made one and the same. Anyone attempting to impose an unwanted and/or false identity upon the individual: one that did not accord with the truths they had derived from their own insight and experience; was to be resisted as an “oppressor”.

Since free-market capitalism can only be overthrown when people are willing to subsume their own individual identities in a collective identity arising out of such all-embracing categories as “human-being”, “citizen”, or “worker”, the irretrievably divisive politics of identity have emerged as free-market capitalism’s surest defence. The only injustice capable of uniting these diverse identities is the wicked lie that there are causes around which it is possible for diverse identities to unite.

This is what the liberal arts faculties of our universities have become: institutions dedicated to the investigation, celebration and protection of personal, sexual, ethnic and gender identity. While the STEM faculties crank out the technologists needed to keep the free-market capitalist machine running, its commissars in the humanities make sure that the monstrous, planet-destroying reality of its existence remains hidden behind a bodyguard of truths. Each of them ready to use the thug’s veto against anyone foolhardy enough to raise their voice in opposition.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 18 October 2019.

Monday 21 October 2019

Is Simon’s Smile Sustainable?

A Sustainable Proposition: With as much as 18 percent of the electorate declaring itself “undecided” about who to vote for, there is obviously plenty of space for a party like former Green Party member, Vernon Tava's, about-to-be-launched "Sustainable NZ Party" to move into. The most hospitable political territory for such a party to settle in would appear to be that occupied by voters who yearn for environmental policy to once again become the preserve of “serious” and “grown up” politicians.

SIMON BRIDGES is feeling pretty chipper this week – with good reason. Pollsters Reid Research and Colmar Brunton have not only re-confirmed the solidity of National’s support, but also tracked a decline in Labour’s numbers. Not a big enough decline, it must be acknowledged, to give the National Party more than the narrowest of victories in one poll and a narrow defeat in the other. Even so, Mr Bridges is beaming. Why?

If his own cryptic encouragement to “watch this space” is any guide, the Leader of the Opposition is anticipating the imminent emergence of what is, potentially, a new coalition partner for National in the 2020 General Election. The most likely candidate for this role is Vernon Tava’s “Sustainable New Zealand Party” The requisite 500 members have, apparently, been signed up and the party’s name approved. All that remains is for Mr Tava’s new political vehicle to be rolled-out with maximum fanfare.

That should not be difficult to secure. Mr Tava is an articulate, energetically moderate and very personable individual who, it must be assumed, has spent the last few months gathering the resources necessary to set his new vehicle in motion. If Sustainable NZ’s website is any guide, Mr Tava’s behind-the-scenes efforts have not been wasted. It is professional in appearance, easily navigable and suffused throughout with ideologically appropriate blues and greens.

If Mr Bridges’ smiles are any indication, however, Mr Tava has done a lot more than produce a website. The National Party leader’s cat-who-got-the-cream expression suggests that the new party will come with a newsworthy collection of founding parents: people for whom liberal National Party supporters would be pleased to vote. Exactly who these people might be remains a closely guarded secret, but a small exercise in imaginative speculation should be enough to indicate how impactful a collection of the right people could be.

Let us imagine, then, that someone with the public profile and indisputable credibility of a Sir Peter Gluckman were to step forward into the glare of the television lights. Instantly, Sustainable NZ would become a serious proposition. The news media would respond enthusiastically, amplifying the party’s messages and giving the existing political landscape a rattling seismic shake.

With as much as 18 percent of the electorate declaring itself “undecided” about who to vote for, there is obviously plenty of space for Sustainable NZ to move into. The most hospitable political territory for the party to settle in would be that occupied by voters who yearn for environmental policy to become the preserve of “serious” and “grown up” politicians. Voters who, while conceding the reality of Climate Change, are not at all impressed by the emotional appeals of Greta Thunberg and her children’s crusade. Voters who refuse to accept the dire predictions of a climate catastrophe: who still have faith in the unbounded ingenuity of the human species to come up with what the doom-sayers scornfully dismiss as “the scientific fix”.

In other words, a party quite unlike the Greens. A party unburdened by the ideological detritus of the 1960s and 70s which the original green parties, formed in the 1980s, felt obliged to haul into the public square. A party that wouldn’t dream of Morris Dancing, or expect its conference delegates to subsist on mung beans, herbal tea and tofu. A party that would be soberly and sensibly liberal on social issues without getting side-tracked into branding its core supporters “white supremacists” or descending into TERF wars. A party which, if presented with a genetically-engineered solution to New Zealand livestock’s methane emissions, rather than cry “Heresy!”, would grab it with both hands.

Most of all, of course, Sustainable NZ would be a party of swingers. For all their origins in the swinging 60s and 70s, the Greens have been the most monogamous of political parties. Since being elected in their own right to Parliament in 1999 they have had only one political partner – Labour. Even when Labour scorned the Greens’ unconditional love; even when it dallied outrageously with Peter Dunne and Winston Peters; even when it left them bruised and battered; they never faltered – never strayed.

Sustainable NZ – if it is the reason for Mr Bridges’ knowing smile – has no intention of becoming the Right’s battered spouse. It will offer itself to National unconditionally only once – but for Simon that will be enough.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 18 October 2019.

Thursday 17 October 2019

Ever-So-Slightly Bonkers: Simon Bridges Plays To His Base.

Would You Buy A Used Propaganda Video From This Man? Bridges and the National Party’s strategists have discovered that the ideas and attitudes considered acceptable by today’s editors and journalists are no longer enforceable. The rise and rise of the Internet and the social media platforms it spawned means that the average voter is no longer dependent on newspapers, radio and television for guidance about right-thinking and wrong-thinking.

SIMON BRIDGES may be right. He’s clearly betting everything National has on the New Zealand electorate being neither outraged nor offended by his behaviour. If the polls are to be believed, it’s a wager he and his party appear to be winning. National is only a few percentage points away from winning the 2020 General Election outright. So what if he comes across on radio and television as ever-so-slightly bonkers. Venture out into the “heartland” and it will soon become apparent that he’s not alone.

Time was when the boundaries of political acceptability were pretty tightly defined – and enforced. Back in the days of newspapers and a strictly limited choice of radio stations and television channels. It was a time when editors wielded enormous power. People with complaints about fluoridation might get the occasional letter-to-the-editor published, but unless the editor himself (it was almost always a him) was anti-fluoride that was about it. The same applied across the entire range of social, economic and political issues. There were ideas that it was acceptable to hold and, hence, to read about; and ideas that most emphatically were not.

These boundaries corralled not only ordinary citizens, but their leaders as well. Step outside them and the retribution could be swift and savage. People who look back wistfully to the days when “consensus” reigned, tend to forget the level of exclusion required to give it effect. The state had no need to maintain a strict censorship regime (excepting, of course, in relation to matters sexual) when the finely honed “journalistic instincts” of newspaper proprietors, news and current affairs editors, and television network bosses made state intervention unnecessary. Which is not to say that the occasional maverick wasn’t allowed to make it through the barbed-wire – if only to demonstrate the system’s willingness to tolerate unorthodox opinions. These honourable exceptions, however, served only to prove the rule.

To step outside the agreed boundaries of political orthodoxy required special courage. In the 1950s and 60s politicians enjoyed considerable public respect, which they were careful to maintain by ensuring that their conduct measured-up to the voters’ expectations. Members of Parliament were serious people: much happier to be considered ponderous than over-excited. A performance akin to Simon Bridges’ on today’s (16/10/19) Morning Report would have been career-ending – even in the 1970s and 80s. So, why does he feel so safe in coming across as ever-so-slightly bonkers?

The answer is very simple. Bridges and the National Party’s strategists have discovered that the ideas and attitudes considered acceptable by today’s editors and journalists are no longer enforceable. The rise and rise of the Internet and the social media platforms it spawned means that the average voter is no longer dependent on newspapers, radio and television for guidance about right-thinking and wrong-thinking. Indeed, what social media has revealed to those average voters is just how vast the gulf has grown that separates their own values from those of the “elites”. What’s more, those same average voters are now free to communicate with one another directly. They no longer have to run the gauntlet of their local newspaper editor’s prejudices – or rely upon the news bulletins and documentaries broadcast over “mainstream” radio and television. Today they have their own sources of information – their own news.

This ability of readers, listeners and viewers to go around the “mainstream” has brought about an historic reversal of dependency in the consumption of information. Now it is the editors of newspapers, radio stations and television networks who must absorb the prejudices of their audiences. The advertisers that still pay the bills can no longer be told to take it or leave it when it comes to getting their messages across. When advertising revenue is dependent upon the number of people who “click” an on-line story, editors are required to go after every click they can possibly get. Media content has been democratised in ways not seen since the early years of the printing press. It is no longer a case of “improving” the Great Unwashed by feeding them the ideas of their betters. Today, it is the Great Unwashed who call the cultural shots. Not an altogether pretty picture. As the great impresario and showman, P. T. Barnum, put it: “Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public!”

Nor is it likely, judging by the behaviour of Simon Bridges and his small army of social media creatives, that any politician is ever going to lose votes by underestimating the wit of the New Zealand electorate. He – and they – know that roughly 50 percent (and probably a lot more!) of New Zealanders are not well-off, well-educated and “woke” urban sophisticates. Hell! They’re anything but! Which is why Simon keeps his messages short, simple and brutal, with endlessly repeated stock phrases. “Keys to the Kingdom” anyone?

Ever-so-slightly bonkers? You betcha! Just like his electoral base.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 17 October 2019.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

"Manifest" by Andrew Bird - A Song For The Times.

I came across this song quite by accident. If it isn't one of Greta Thunberg's favourites - it should be.

Video courtesy of YouTube.

This post is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Losing Labour's Mills-Tone.

Nothing Left To Say: Labour's pollster, Stephen Mills, remains swaddled-up in the comforting myths of the 1980s. As if the experience of Roger Douglas’s genuinely radical post-Muldoon policy agenda was literally a once-in-a-lifetime thing – as much as the party could possibly absorb for at least the next 50 years.

MEMO TO THE Prime Minister’s Office: Please tell Stephen Mills to stay off the radio. When the boss of Labour’s polling agency, UMR, comes across on RNZ’s Nine to Noon “Politics” slot (14/10/19) as considerably further to the right than both Kathryn Ryan and Matthew Hooton then, believe me, it’s time to tell your pollster, very politely, to stick to his stats.

Listening to Mills in the aftermath of Justin Lester’s shocking loss to Andy Forster in the Wellington mayoralty election provided depressing confirmation of Labour’s current malaise. The party has no use for new thinking – about anything. It remains swaddled-up in the comforting myths of the 1980s. As if the experience of Roger Douglas’s genuinely radical post-Muldoon policy agenda was literally a once-in-a-lifetime thing – as much as the party could possibly absorb for at least the next 50 years.

Mills confirmed this quite unconsciously, when Matthew Hooton noted the irony of Muldoon’s massive energy projects taking on a prescient quality in light of the massive infrastructure challenges currently facing New Zealand. All Mills could offer by way of reply was a reflexive jibe about Hooton coming out in favour of “Think Big”. The man showed no inclination to step outside the dusty orthodoxy of the past 30 years. It’s as if Mills’ watch stopped in 1984 and he’s never felt the slightest inclination to re-wind it.

These jibes are a not uncommon feature of Mills’ commentary repertoire. A little while ago he derided a critic of government policy as “one of the last seven Marxists living in New Zealand”. At least that little joke raised a smile, but only if one was willing to ignore its unpleasant, red-baiting subtext.

Because, as the sorry fate of David Cunliffe testifies, open hostility towards anything further to the left than Tony Blair’s bland Third Way has long been de rigueur in Labour’s senior ranks. It’s why you will never hear Jacinda Ardern (who worked for a time in Blair’s administration) or Grant Robertson (who remains Michael Cullen’s prize protégé) offer a word of support or praise for Jeremy Corbyn. This hostility to any hint of socialism (even the “democratic socialism” enshrined in the NZ Labour Party’s constitution) is even stronger among those of Jacinda’s political advisers who learned their trade from the Clinton/Obama Democratic Party in the United States.

The kind of politics such rigidly orthodox and pathologically risk-averse conduct produces leaves most voters cold. It’s grey practitioners accept as gospel the fundamental neoliberal proposition that the last people who should be allowed within a mile of important policy decisions are politicians. These latter, say the neolibs, are best left to senior bureaucrats – preferably those with a background in the private sector. It explains why, in ordinary people's eyes, today’s politicians appear more interested in addressing the priorities of business leaders and bureaucrats than those of the broader electorate. It also explains why the priorities of the voters are addressed so selectively.

The fate of Wellington’s Justin Lester illustrates the learned helplessness of modern political leaders to perfection. Faced with the utter failure of the Regional Council’s public transport re-vamp, Lester responded that, as Wellington’s Mayor, it was not, actually, his responsibility to fix the bus service. Ditto with the proposed, highly controversial, property development at Shelly Bay. That was a private sector initiative. All of these excuses were grounded in administrative fact. But, it is very poor politics to keep telling people that there is nothing you can do to help them – especially in an election year!

Which is why, with Lester’s fate firmly in their minds, Jacinda’s advisers in the PM’s Office should urge Mills to get off the air. As the supposed voice of the “Left” his only contribution to the progressive cause is to rubbish every idea that doesn’t come straight out of The Big Blairite Book of Conventional Wisdom. The notion that democratic politics was once, and could be again, about something more than securing the narrow interests of big business – as interpreted by its bureaucratic and media enablers – is conspicuous by its absence from Mill’s Monday morning political discourse. Astonishingly, RNZ’s listeners are more likely to hear that sort of talk from Hooton, speaking for the Right, than from the Left’s supposed spokesperson.

Quite why RNZ continues to offer-up the likes of Mills (and his stand-in, the former Labour Party boss, Mike Williams) as representatives of the Left is a mystery. There was a time when genuine left-wingers like Laila Harré were given the job. Back then, listeners could be assured of hearing ideas that most assuredly did not fit the description of “conventional wisdom”. Nor was it the practice of the Left’s champion to tell her audience what they couldn’t have, because what they were asking of their elected representatives were things they couldn’t do.

It is difficult to imagine an approach to political debate more likely to foster voter disengagement than the one currently in evidence on RNZ. Kathryn Ryan and her producer are certainly not doing the Left in general, nor Labour and the Greens in particular, any favours by allowing them to be represented by a person so strongly wedded to the notion that his clients will always be better served following public opinion than leading it. Or, that the art of politics consists in persuading the voters that their political leaders are making new mistakes – rather than repeating old ones. Indeed, the real question that is left hanging in the air after half-an-hour listening to Stephen Mills is not why anyone wanting real change would vote for the parties of the Left, but why they would bother voting at all.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 15 October 2019.

Saturday 12 October 2019

Sage Decisions Unwisely Over-Ruled.

Overruled: The joint decision of Finance Minister, Grant Robertson (Labour) and his Associate Minister, David Parker (Labour) arguably the two most powerful ministers in Jacinda Ardern’s government, to grant OceanaGold the consents which Land Information Minister, Eugenie Sage (Greens) had earlier denied them, offers bitter proof of how hard fighting Climate Change is going to be.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, several hundred young Wellingtonians laid siege to the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on Stout Street in the heart of the capital. Their Extinction Rebellion protest was the first in a noisy series of similar demonstrations set to take place across the world. Had they known that two senior Labour ministers would, the very next day, over-rule the anti-mining decision of the Greens Land Information Minister, Eugenie Sage, their protest might not have been so good humoured.

The joint decision of Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, and his Associate Minister, David Parker (arguably the two most powerful ministers in Jacinda Ardern’s government) to grant OceanaGold the consents which Sage had earlier denied them, offers bitter proof of how hard fighting Climate Change is going to be.

In refusing the company its consents, Sage had argued that the mine’s proposed expansion was “inherently unsustainable, will increase emissions, and will provide only moderate employment benefits relative to winding down the operation and remediating the site”.

If Climate Change is to be fought successfully, judgements such as Sage’s will have to be issued by the thousand. Businesses large and small, in the cities as well as in the countryside, will have to be told, bluntly, that what they are proposing has become unacceptable. That the days of companies making profits, by passing on the environmental costs of those profits to future generations of taxpayers, are over. That the facts of economic life have changed.

A progressive government that was serious about its promise to make Climate Change the nuclear-free moment of its generation, would have stood behind Sage’s decision. If only to demonstrate that the painful but necessary decisions it would increasingly be required to make could not be undermined, second-guessed and generally got-around by hiring expensive lobbyists to whisper scary stories in senior ministers’ ears. Leading the charge in this respect should be the Finance Minister. No one else can speak to the business community with such authority.

But, what did the Finance Minister and his Associate Minister actually do? How did they express their solidarity? Well, in their media release of Tuesday, 8 October, they expressed it like this:

“In August 2019, Land Information New Zealand’s Overseas Investment Office (OIO) received two new applications from OceanaGold to buy the parcels of farm land totalling approximately 180 hectares near its current Waihi mines.

“In respect of the new applications the ministerial decision making roles were transferred to Ministers Robertson and Parker, who have policy responsibilities under the Overseas Investment Act, to ensure a fresh analysis of the application.

“The OIO considered the new applications under the benefit to New Zealand pathway of the Overseas Investment Act and recommended to Ministers the applications be approved.”

Ministers Robertson and Parker duly approved the OIO’s recommendation. OceanaGold’s investment, they said would: “benefit New Zealand because of the retention of about 340 full-time jobs over nine years and exports valued at $2 billion over nine years.”

It is hard to think of a more naked admission by this government that, when confronted with a choice between acting to save our environment and “business as usual”, it will unfailingly choose “business as usual”. Robertson and Parker have stripped away all the star-dusted rhetoric, and thrust forward the unadorned reality for everyone to see. Jobs and export earnings: the very same drivers that have persuaded government-after-government to put off saving the environment until tomorrow, on account of the heavy political costs associated with saving it today, clearly remain as powerful as ever.

Is this what the Greens signed-up for? To see their ministers humiliated? To have their policies ignored and their decisions over-ruled? To have the threat of corporate legal action trump any and every attempt at climate action?

In the light of this decision, the Greens must surely reassess their position vis-à-vis Labour and NZ First, Those among them (yes, we are looking at you James Shaw) who argued that ministerial portfolios would allow the party to do things that shouting from the side-lines could never achieve, stand rebuked by Robertson’s and Parker’s ruthless intervention. They have made it clear that any Green Party ministers who believe themselves free to act independently, according to the evidence, should think again.

And so should Extinction Rebellion, because, clearly, MBIE is the least of their worries.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 11 October 2019.

Friday 11 October 2019

Fighting Monsters.

Freedom Of Speech? The Säuberung (cleansing by fire) was the work of the German Student Union which, on 10 May 1933, under the watchful eye of the Nazi Reichminister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, consigned 25,000 books to the flames in a ritual exorcism of “un-German thought”. According to the logic of the authors of the Open Letter protesting the University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor's refusal to censor Action Zealandia, however, the Nazi-inspired students' actions constitute free speech.

A MURDEROUS, ANTISEMITIC terrorist attack, live-streamed in chilling imitation of the Christchurch Massacres, has shocked and dismayed the German nation. Proof, if any was needed, that strict legal prohibitions against the iconography and language of far-right extremism confers no special protection against the deadly designs of its adherents. No country is more assiduous in banning hate speech and Nazi paraphernalia than the German Republic, and yet, the impulse to murder Jews and Muslims has not been thwarted.

Sadly, that is not the lesson which the Censorious Left has been inclined to draw from this latest tragedy. Almost immediately, sophomoric statements appeared on social-media deploying the horror of the attack against the defenders of free speech. The latter were accused of supporting the right of homicidal Nazis to debate their views openly in the marketplace of ideas. Perhaps intuiting that this accusation was unlikely to be taken seriously, the Censorious Left’s opted to advance the (marginally) more moderate suggestion that while the philosophies of the Right may not in-and-of-themselves be objectionable, exposing vulnerable individuals to their malign influence under the rubric of free speech could only end with homicidal Nazis shooting up synagogues and mosques.

But, this line of argument leaves the Left as exposed to censorship as the Right. If granting right-wingers a platform is a bad idea because giving free rein to right-wing ideas will only end in murder, massacre and genocide, then granting platforms to the Left must also be forbidden. If the logical terminus of right-wing thought is Auschwitz, then the logical terminus of left-wing thought must be the Gulag. For every Babi Yar advanced by the anti-Nazis, the anti-Communists can produce a Katyn Forest. Clearly, the only sensible solution, if society is to be kept safe from all forms of ideological extremism, is to stop talking about politics altogether!

Except, of course, the Censorious Left has no intention of allowing itself to be silenced. That much was made clear by the 1,300 academic staff and students of the University of Auckland who signed the Open Letter condemning their own Vice-Chancellor’s defence of free speech on campus. As the anonymous author/s of the letter put it:

“If these posters [pasted-up by the ‘radical nationalist’ group calling itself Action Zealandia] constitute ‘free speech’, the same can be said of the actions of individuals who remove those that they encounter.”

Clearly, the person/s who wrote those words is no historian. No one having the slightest acquaintance with modern history would have exposed themselves so completely to the obvious rejoinder that their definition of free speech, if accepted, must render its extinction inevitable. Was it not the very Nazis the Censorious Left purports to condemn who bequeathed the world what is surely the most compelling depiction of intolerance, intellectual aggression and censorship ever recorded on film?

The Säuberung (cleansing by fire) was the work of the German Student Union which on 10 May 1933, under the watchful eye of the Reichminister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, consigned 25,000 books to the flames in a ritual exorcism of “un-German thought”. Into the bonfire illuminating the square in front of the Berlin Opera House, hundreds of radical nationalist students hurled the works of Jewish, Socialist and Communist authors. As the burning books cast their grotesque shadows over the crowd, horrified foreign journalists recalled the words of the nineteenth century German poet, Heinrich Heine: “Where they burn books, they will too in the end burn people.”

Not that the Censorious Left possesses the slightest grounds for objecting to this infamous historical spectacle. After all, those German students were simply behaving in the way recommended by the author/s of the Open Letter to Vice-Chancellor McCutcheon 86 years later. What else was the Säuberung but the ritual obliteration of material considered by the staff and students of Germany’s universities to be offensive and harmful to the wellbeing of the German volk? In confronting this “hate speech”, they were guilty of nothing more than exercising – exuberantly and dramatically – their right of free speech!

Perhaps if the Censorious Left knew a little bit more about the tactics of the historical movement they so loudly condemn they would be less inclined to imitate it. Those so outraged by the presence in Auckland of right-wing provocateurs Cheryl Southern and Stefan Molyneux that they were willing to frighten the owners of prospective venues for the duo’s public lectures into refusing them access, were clearly ignorant of the fate of the classic anti-war film, All Quiet on the Western Front.

At the film’s Berlin premiere in December 1930, Nazi stormtroopers harangued and jostled the audience as they entered the cinema, released stink-bombs in the auditorium and called-in real bomb threats. Goebbels pledged to do the same in cinemas all over Germany if the film – which the Nazis declared anti-German and offensive to all Great War veterans – was not withdrawn immediately. Terrified cinema-owners, fearful that people and property would be harmed, mostly succumbed to the “thug’s veto”. All Quiet on the Western Front was not scheduled again for general release in Germany until after World War II.

This is how Nazis exercise their freedom of speech.

Perhaps the Censorious Left should heed the advice given by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 11 October 2019.

Thursday 10 October 2019

Let’s Hear It For Up-Close-And-Personal, Hard-Copy Democracy!

The Best Way: Missing from the on-line voting debate is any reference to the voting system that produces turn-out figures ranging from 77 to 93 percent of registered voters. The voting system used to collect and count the votes cast in our parliamentary elections. The system that involves citizens making their way to a polling station, marking their ballot-papers privately in a polling-booth, and then depositing them personally in a sealed ballot-box.

WHY ARE RETURNING OFFICERS coming out so strongly for on-line voting? Of all the people in the world willing to advocate for a system of voting so absurdly vulnerable to interference and corruption, returning officers should be the very last. And yet, all week, as fears of a record low voter turnout in this latest round of local government elections have grown, it is returning officers who are among the keenest to give on-line voting a try.

The curious fact about this clamour for on-line voting is that its proponents are offering it as a cure for declining voter participation. Young people, notorious for their poor record for joining-in the democratic process, are seen as the group most likely to benefit from this supposed panacea. Missing from the debate, however, is the voting system that produces turn-out figures ranging from 77 to 93 percent of registered voters. The voting system used to collect and count the votes cast in our parliamentary elections. The one that involves citizens making their way to a polling station, marking their ballot-papers privately in a polling-booth, and then depositing them personally in a sealed ballot-box.

This was, after all, the way New Zealanders used to vote in local body elections. Why was it abandoned? Ironically, because voter turn-out was falling, and it was thought that allowing people to fill out their ballot papers at home, over a fortnight, and then pop them in the post, would make the whole process easier, less stressful and more efficient. Predictably, there was a slight up-tick in electoral participation, followed by another slow decline in voter numbers.

Interestingly, the obvious weaknesses in postal voting were never taken particularly seriously by its proponents. That it essentially did away with the idea that casting a vote was something every citizen had a right to do, alone, in a polling-booth, where they could be safe from the influence of husbands, wives, other family members, and (thinking once again of younger voters) flatmates, was not considered a serious enough defect to rule postal voting out of contention.

The thought that a domineering husband and/or authoritarian mother might commandeer their family’s voting papers and cast them all themselves never appears to have crossed the reformers’ minds. Nor, apparently, the possibility that a flat full of apathetic youngsters might simply invite the one member of the household interested in politics to cast their votes for them.

Exactly the same indifference to the possibility that an election’s final outcome may not be an accurate reflection of the electorate’s will is noticeable in the campaigners for on-line voting.

Similar indifference has been shown by those in charge of the 2019 local government elections to the steadily declining efficacy of the New Zealand Post Office. When postal voting was introduced in 1992, the Internet was largely restricted to boffins and geeks. The mail was delivered on every day of the week except Sunday, and a posted letter could travel from one end of the country to the other more-or-less overnight. Over the course of the last 27 years, however, the time taken for a letter to reach its addressee has increased from one or two days to approximately a week. Likewise, the time taken for ballot papers to be delivered and returned. It will be interesting to discover how many 2019 ballot papers, posted no later than 5 days out from the vote-count (as advised) nevertheless arrive after mid-day on Saturday, 12 October. Since NZ Post no longer date stamps letters, it will be impossible to sort out which ballot papers should be counted and which disallowed. There is a real possibility that hundreds – perhaps thousands – of citizens will end up being disenfranchised by New Zealand’s sclerotic postal service.

The nation’s returning officers will, of course, object that anyone who forgets to post their ballot papers can always deposit them by hand in one of the ballot boxes situated in the local library and at the town hall. In other words, to overcome the growing challenges associated with running an efficient postal voting system, our returning officers have set up what are effectively polling-booths to cater for the stragglers.

Honestly, it’s enough to make you wonder why we just don’t admit that postal-voting, never a particularly good idea, has failed, and return to the original – and by far the most secure – method of discovering the electorate’s will. It could hardly be worse than the present system, and it certainly beats the heck out of sending your vote into the void of cyberspace, where neither you – nor the returning officers of the nation – have the slightest notion of where it has been sent, what happened to it there, and on whose behalf, before it ends up as a configuration of pixels blinking mindlessly on some private-sector contractor’s computer screen.

Stealing a hard-copy election is surprisingly difficult and very hard to hide. Stealing an on-line election, however, is a much easier proposition. If it’s done properly, no one but the people who paid for the hack will ever know.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 10 October 2019.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Taking Control Of The Nation's Story.

Fatal Contact: With the arrival of Captain James Cook on this day in October 1769, the islands of what would become New Zealand ceased to be the preserve of Polynesian navigators and settlers and became a part of both the world’s map and the world’s history.

THE MAORI NATIONALIST assault upon the historical meaning and reputation of Captain James Cook is entirely understandable. With his arrival in October 1769 these islands ceased to be the preserve of Polynesian navigators and settlers and became a part of both the world’s map and the world’s history. It is this sudden and irreversible transformation that presents such a formidable obstacle to the Maori nationalist cause. Its proselytisers know that once Cook’s map of New Zealand was added to the global stock of human knowledge, the world of the Maori was doomed.  Small wonder that the outspoken Maori nationalist, Dr Arama Rata, recently described Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, as “a death ship”, and characterised his arrival as an “invasion”.

Maori nationalism is not, however, about mourning the loss of the pre-European world that Cook’s arrival made inevitable. It’s partisans are not so reactionary as to suppose that the restoration of the status quo ante is either possible or desirable. No matter how loudly they might lament the loss of life that accompanied the first encounters between Maori and Pakeha, they are well aware that no Maori would thank them for magically uplifting their children from twenty-first century New Zealand and dropping them into eighteenth century Aotearoa. No, what Maori nationalism seeks is a reversal of political fortunes: the creation of an Aotearoa-New Zealand in which Pakeha will no longer call the shots.

A radical revision of New Zealand and, indeed, of global history, is crucial to achieving this political reversal. The cultural and scientific achievements of the European peoples, especially their dramatic expansion into, and eventual subjugation of, practically every other significant land mass on the planet, must be re-cast as an horrific tale of murder, rape and theft - undertaken by that global human scourge which Dr Rata calls “white people”. Only when the general perception of European civilisation has become one of technological prowess unmitigated by compassion or restraint, and the colonisation process is presented as uniquely oppressive and destructive of land and people, will the nationalist cause enter its next and most important phase – that of radical constitutional transformation.

When it comes to effecting that transformation, a surprising amount of faith has been vested by Maori nationalists in demographic change. Surprising, because in their hopes of overtaking the Pakeha population at some point in the reasonably near future, the nationalists are showing a confusing degree of confidence that the rapacious colonisers will simply stand back and allow the balance of democratic power to shift irrevocably in favour of the tangata whenua. That this is most unlikely to happen is demonstrated by the fact that, for the last 30 years, the “White Settler Government” has presided over an immigration regime which saw the “Asian” population rise from fewer than 5 percent of the population to 15 percent – a figure rivalling that of Maori New Zealanders.

Was it purely a matter of chance that this rapid reshaping of New Zealand’s demographic structure coincided with the flowering of the “Maori Renaissance”? Or, is it evidence that the Maori population will never be permitted to rise to a level where the dominance of European political and economic models is threatened? Have Maori nationalists not noted the change in the official terminology used to describe New Zealand society: from “bicultural” to “multicultural”? The determination of the New Zealand state to integrate its domestic economic institutions ever more inextricably in the global economy renders the Maori nationalist project ever more problematic.

From the nationalists’ perspective, the only hopeful aspect to the present situation is the enormously high level of historical ignorance in the New Zealand population – especially in the young. Forty years of failure to present a coherent historical narrative to successive generations of students has left young New Zealanders prey to the anachronistic blame-gaming of Maori nationalists. Descriptions of Cook as a “colonialist” and, even more risibly, a “white supremacist”, have been swallowed whole by those Pakeha disposed to range themselves against the negative effects of racism and colonisation on contemporary Maori. If Maori nationalist historians can seize control of the new, soon-to-be-compulsory, history curriculum, then the necessary ideological preparations can be made for a radical constitutional transformation. Only thus can the historic reversal of Maori fortunes, which began on the day the Endeavour arrived off the New Zealand coast 250 years ago, be overturned.

But only if the “White Settler State” is a great deal less determined to maintain its power and privilege than the Maori nationalists have, so far, been willing to admit.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 8 October 2019.