Jul 30, 2014

Whyte Power: Act and the winner takes all society

David Seymour and Jamie Whyte. H/T Wikipedia.

Yesterday I published the speech that I gave to the ACT Party Waikato Conference on Saturday. It concerned a fundamental principle of Western civilisation. 
I said that all citizens should be equal before the law. 
I realise that in some countries, such as Afghanistan, that might be a controversial idea…  
But in New Zealand today, you might expect the principle of equality before the law to be uncontroversial. You might expect that a declaration of commitment to it would be greeted with quiet equanimity, perhaps even a yawn. 
Not so. My declaration has triggered vitriolic hostility.

And so it should. The argument is absurd. In Whyte’s world substantive inequality is not the residue of settler colonialism, but a failure – on the part of Māori, of course - to commit to equality before the law. This is where equality before the law is not a substantive standard, but a formal one. Theoretical purity is more important that actual circumstance. 

Redneckery’s appeal is in its simplicity. One believes that the history of racism is something that happened – not something that is happening. If the redneck accepts that then there’s no need to acknowledge – let alone examine – how conditions yesterday shape circumstances today. Instead a neat line is drawn between the past and the present. Thus Whyte is prepared to admit some injustice – the sort that fits his dogmatic view of “property rights” – yet he rejects any form of continuing injustice. Utopia is so close! If only the maoris embraced equality before the law! 

Every ideology is built on stilts. The idea that, if all you unseeing others committed to living The Ideology, then utopia will arrive. It’s a particularly nasty form of white male syndrome – the need to universalise everything. Everything. 

You’ll know I’m quite serious when I say white male syndrome. Only last week Colin Craig – a self-described conservative – was pitching to the same audience. That is, the redneck and his supposed desire for equality in liberal democracy. Whyte is appealing to the same audience. But the argument is not, in fact, an argument – it’s a strategy. White men are practising identity politics. 

Not explicitly so. They dress it in the myth of the level playing field. I wrote about this last week. People of privilege push the idea that “all people are created equal and any deviation from that principle constitutes the real injustice”. The idea goes something like this: “injustice is not the fact that you are poor, dumb and incarcerated, but that you need and receive targeted rights because of it”. Formal inequality – that is, anything that isn’t one size fits all – is the real injustice. Substantive inequality? Nope - no injustice there, apparently. 

This is white male syndrome. It’s a rearguard action designed to protect actual privilege – the one of the white kind. If disadvantage is a matter of personal responsibility – the fault of the poor sod stuck in her feckless and self-defeating ways - then no response is required from the privileged. This is what Whyte is arguing for. Not so much a winner takes all approach – the game is rigged, after all - but the pre-determined winner keeps all. In New Zealand, the game was played 174 years ago. The winners took all and Jamie Whyte – who’s on the winning team – will make damn sure they keep it all.

Jul 23, 2014

The politics of the level playing field: why Colin Craig is wrong

Pretty much this. Via Te Ururoa Flavell:

“Māori Party Co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell says the Conservative Party’s policies to get rid of the Māori seats, shut down the Waitangi Tribunal and implement ‘one law for all’ are ignorant, dangerous, and are not welcome in our political system or our country… 

The old assimilation policy is hidden behind a few new terms and slogans, such as One Law for All, but the intention is the same and we know all about it. In this day and age there is no place for political leaders who know nothing about our history and know nothing about us”.

Craig and his Conservatives aren’t here to restore “unity”. They’re the exhausted rear guard of New Zealand racism. Armed, it seems, with very little but a slogan and a cheque book. 

The intent is clear: Craig is trying – failing - to tap the reservoir of racism. It’s not “one law for all” but “one law to rule us all”. The latter sounds more chauvinist than the former, quite a feat, yet doomed to fail. What Brash had with one law for all and Craig doesn’t with one law to rule us all is institutional acceptance. The veneer of respectability. As Brash was fond of saying, he was for “mainstream New Zealand”. Craig is merely the perfectly pitched 5 percent politician. 

Mihingarangi Forbes revealed as much in her interview with Craig on Native Affairs. Best described as extended torture, Craig can’t muster a coherent explanation for, firstly, his apparent support for Māori Television and, second, his opposition to division “based on race”. The same for te reo Māori. Craig supports government funding, yet can’t reconcile it with his “one law to rule us all” position. He is left to grasp at artificial distinctions. 

But even in the face of such impressive incompetence, it’d be negligent to ignore Craig. His message is still insidious because it’s pitched at the progressive – yes, irony - desire for equality in liberal democracy. 

That is, the idea all people are created equal and any deviation from that principle constitutes the real injustice. It’s the myth of the level playing field. There’s room to recognise the Treaty and historic injustice, yet Craig and his Conservatives seem to be claiming that – at some unspecified point in time - modern democracy created a nation of equals. It didn’t, but that’s a foundational myth in New Zealand. The idea that a neat line separates the bad Old Days and the more enlightened Good Days. 

So if the level playing field is true - it isn't - then you’re poor, dumb and incarcerated because you deserve to be. Where the injustice is not the fact that you are poor, dumb and incarcerated, but that you need and receive targeted rights because of it. The reasoning is absurd: catering for substantive inequality is actually creating legal inequality. On Planet Conservative, the latter is the real crime. 

But it’s a very attractive argument – especially among the selfish. If disadvantage is a matter of personal responsibility then it requires no response from the advantaged. The demand that Māori accept “equal rights” – so no legal distinctions between different people – is really a plea for assimilation. Craig is really asking Maori to accept their disadvantages quietly. Well, no thanks. 

Replace “Māori” with any other category of difference in New Zealand society. Now try to argue that this category of difference must be abandoned for the sake of “unity”. It doesn’t really work unless there is some manifest harm, yeah? Te Ururoa is right. Craig is merely resurrecting “the old assimilation policy”, but “hidden behind a few new terms and slogans”. Now that “is not welcome”.