Monday, April 8, 2019

It is not racist to reject tribalism and neo-feudalism

Some left-wing politicians and commentators were quick to exploit the recent mass murder of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, blaming it on the extreme right and 'white nationalists'. The New Zealand Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson went further, equating the attack with with oppression of Maori in colonial New Zealand and saying, "New Zealand was founded on the theft of land, language, identity and the mana of [Maori]. Here in...this very land we’re standing on, is land that [Maori] were violently removed from to uphold the same agenda that held the people in the mosque yesterday."

Auckland University historian Anne Salmond joined the fray saying, "White supremacy is part of us, a dark power in the's violent and hateful, spewing out curses, incarcerating young Maori in large numbers, denying them a decent education, homes and jobs, telling them they have no future, and are better off dead." She went on to say, "Since the arrival of Captain James Cook 250 years ago, Maori have struggled to gain a nationwide acceptance of their cultural values, language and spiritual beliefs. Colonisation is one of Cook’s legacies and racism against Maori is a part of it. New Zealand has inherited a British supremacy perspective and it pervades every area of our society."

It is, of course, a battle tactic of the far left to equate any differing views than theirs with racism, but we should examine such claims for their merits. Does New Zealand have a racist, "British supremacy perspective" that continues to discriminate against Maori? And what does Salmond mean by the struggle for "nationwide acceptance of [Maori] cultural values?"

Colonisation ended in a formal sense in 1853 when Britain granted New Zealand self-government, but the first New Zealand government was democratic only in a limited sense, with a property ownership qualification for male voters. Most Maori, who did not have recognised legal title to their lands, did not qualify to vote, but this was addressed in 1867 with the establishment of Maori seats in parliament, elected by universal male Maori suffrage. Non-Maori men were not granted universal suffrage until 1879 and women in 1893. The Maori seats still exist and people of Maori descent can choose to vote in Maori electorates or be on the general electoral roll. In the last election, 24% of the seats in the New Zealand Parliament went to candidates of Maori descent, compared with approx. 15% of the population identifying as Maori, so at least in terms of democratic representation Maori do not suffer discrimination.

The argument goes a little deeper, however, and it appears to be Western liberal democracy itself that is regarded as discriminatory against Maori. This is surely what Salmond means when she says, "Maori have struggled to gain a nationwide acceptance of their cultural values, language and spiritual beliefs." She seems to support a reversion to traditional Maori tribal rule and this is precisely what those calling for greater Maori political and economic privileges mean when they talk about the Treaty of Waitangi guaranteeing a "partnership" with the Crown. It means New Zealand should have two parallel systems, a tribal system for Maori and something else (perhaps some limited form of democracy) for non-Maori. It is clear that the partnership concept means that, at a minimum, each system will have equal power, but more likely that Maori will have supremacy. 

Traditional Maori society has been compared to compared to Communism, which is probably why many left-wing activists romanticise it, but a more accurate comparison is medieval feudalism with its strict gradations of social status including aristocrats, the warrior class and serfs. Slavery was widespread in Maori society and warfare and 'utu' (revenge) were the common forms of settling disputes. The dominant units of political organisation were the iwi (tribe) and hapu (sub tribe), and there were no equivalent concepts of individual rights, personal property and the rule of law. It was certainly a very different political and social structure to what exists in modern Western democracies.

Contrary to what Salmond and others would have us believe, Western civilisation is not a racial thing. It was rooted in the classical civilisations of Greece and Rome and flourished in Western Europe during the Enlightenment, but it has since spread across the entire globe with countries as geographically and ethnically diverse as Singapore, Botswana and the Cook Islands embracing the Western ideals of individual rights, a free market economy and the rule of law.

Maori in the 19th Century took to the British way of life with enthusiasm, learning to read and write the English language, becoming educated in the Western tradition, gaining trades and embarking on professional careers, and in many cases becoming wealthy in their own right. But many Maori men also became labourers, which entailed a significant reduction in status from that of a warrior, and there was a significant element of racism amongst the European population, many of whom believed, like school inspector Henry Taylor in 1862, that Maori were "better calculated by nature to get their living by manual than by mental labour." However, that does not mean that the system is rigged against Maori today and I am far from convinced that even most Maori would want to abandon the liberal democracy we have in New Zealand.

It is not anti-Maori to resist the imposition of traditional Maori political and social systems on modern New Zealand society any more than it is anti-Chinese to oppose Maoist Communism. On the contrary, it is totalitarian to take the position that you cannot oppose such an imposition without being racist. We need to be clear about what we reject and why we reject it - we do not resist tribalism and a neo-feudalism because it is peculiarly Maori (which, of course, it is not), we reject it because it is incompatible with our values of individual rights and liberty.

It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in when you are being called a racist and implicated in such a horrific crime as the Christchurch mass murders, but we need to recognise the motivations of those who are exploiting the awful event for their political ends. They do not want a pluralistic society where differences are tolerated, they want a homogeneous world where everyone is in lockstep with their views. They call those who disagree with them racists because they want us to shut up. We must reject their premises as well as their arguments because if we don't, we'll lose everything.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Mess that is Brexit

In June 2016, a majority of British voters cast their ballots in favour of leaving the European Union. Since then we have seen a litany of prevarication, obstruction and evasiveness as the British political establishment has tried to backpedal on its commitment to implement the will of the voters. Finally we reached Brexit Day, the 29th March 2019, when Prime Minister Theresa May promised Britain would leave the EU, and nothing has happened. It is the most extraordinary demonstration of political cynicism and cowardice since Neville Chamberlain's 'Peace in our Time'.

The vote to leave the EU should have triggered a plan to deliver it - a series of inexorable steps that showed clear intent and that provided certainty for Britons and their erstwhile European overlords. Within weeks of the vote May's government should have published a draft set of principles that laid out what the decision means in practice (e.g. Britain would no longer be in the customs union and its courts wouldn't be bound by decisions of the European Court of Justice). After a short period of public consultation, these principles would be finalised and agreed by Cabinet.

Then legislation should have been introduced to Parliament, which gave effect to the referendum result including invoking Article 50 (the formal advice of withdrawal). The legislation would have allowed for the negotiation of a leaving agreement with the EU but should have made clear that in the absence of such an agreement, Brexit would come into legal effect on a specified date irregardless. This would have ensured Britain was negotiating from a position of strength and that the current debacle of last minute parliamentary votes was avoided. Undoubtedly there would be have been many legislative and regulatory details that needed to be addressed before Brexit happened but these could have been dealt with by amendments to the main legislation or by regulation.

Why didn't it happen like this? The obvious answer is a combination of political ineptitude on the part of Theresa May and her cabinet and a deliberate campaign to undermine the outcome of the referendum. But the reasons are more complex than the poor behaviour of British politicians.

The Brexit fiasco is a reflection of a deeper malaise in British society. The cowardice and duplicity we have seen with Brexit are endemic to that once great country. This is the country whose authorities turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of thousands of young girls and yet prosecutes people for making jokes on Twitter. The country has more surveillance cameras than any other country on Earth and has recently implemented a scheme to make internet users verify their identity before they can view even the most innocuous pornography online. Britain is becoming a place where its rulers regard their subjects primarily as a threat and attempt to control their every move with increasingly draconian measures.

Some commentators have predicted that the British people will rise up like the French with their gilets jeune protests, while others have said that they are too meek and conformist to do anything. I am hopeful that the long-subdued British bulldog, which showed its teeth momentarily in the Brexit vote, will end up biting its rulers where it hurts.