Karl du Fresne: November 2021

Saturday, November 27, 2021

The worst of all possible worlds

The following column was first published on The BFD. It has since had a small amount of new material added.

We’re all familiar with the phrase “the worst of all possible worlds”. Well, I think we now know what that world looks like.

We have an all-powerful, increasingly authoritarian government that combines ideological zealotry with ineptitude, profligacy, laziness and contempt for democratic process – surely the most lethal confluence of malignant political forces in living memory.

We have an opposition that should be presenting itself as an alternative to Labour but instead has been busy disembowelling itself. Both Judith Collins and Simon Bridges placed their egos and ambitions ahead of the interests of the country. The primary blame lies with Collins for her clumsy and desperate last-resort survival ploy but Bridges cannot entirely escape culpability, having done little to hose down media speculation about a change of leadership – indeed, appearing at times to revel in it. The voters are likely to punish them, but tragically New Zealand will also pay for their hubris. As long as the National caucus remains fractured by leadership squabbles, Labour has a good chance of squeaking back into power in 2023 and completing its transformational, neo-Marxist agenda.

The smart money is on Christopher Luxon to take over the leadership of the National Party, but it will be a hospital pass. People who know Luxon speak highly of him, but running an international airline is no preparation for the brutal business of top-level politics – and especially not for dealing with destructive and mischievous elements in the media, who will set out to destabilise him from day one.

Speaking of the media, we have a new breed of political journalists whom no one can trust, who regard themselves as players rather than observers, and who treat politics as some sort of entertaining blood sport – one in which all participants risk being maimed with the exception of … the media, who are accountable to no one and are in the uniquely privileged position of ensuring they always come out as winners. I’m reminded of a British journalist’s memorable line about newspaper editorial writers: “They watch from the hills as the fighting rages, then come down and bayonet the wounded.”

That pretty much describes some of today’s Press Gallery journalists, such as Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien and her understudy Jenna Lynch, who have no skin in the game and can walk away unscathed from the carnage they helped to orchestrate. Newshub played a key role in National’s leadership crisis, constantly contriving opportunities to undermine the floundering opposition leader while leaving the prime minister – the person actually running the country – untouched within her media-enabled force field. Dirty politics? You have it right there – but don’t expect another book from Nicky Hager. 

We have a rising political star in the person of David Seymour, whom voters clearly see as the most effective alternative to Jacinda Ardern, but who has no experience in government – in fact remains largely an unknown quantity – and who leads a party of absolute greenhorns. Theoretically there’s scope for an electoral arrangement between Act and National, on the assumption that they share at least some political values and might achieve together what they cannot do individually. But my guess is the same petty egos that have torn National apart would sabotage any such proposal. Sharing power and relinquishing control just isn’t in their DNA.

So there it is. Good luck trying to find something optimistic to latch onto in that lot.

Who’s to blame, then, if anyone? Mike Hosking this week fingered John Key as being responsible for the mess we’re in, and I don’t think he was being entirely flippant. If only Key hadn’t stood down, Hosking implied, New Zealand would still be basking in the sunlit uplands.

But I suspect Key regarded the prime ministership as just another box to be ticked off on the career path he had mapped out for himself, and once he tired of the job he could hardly be expected to stick around just for the sake of the country. After all, a bloke like Key likes to quit while he’s ahead.

No, if you want to trace New Zealand’s parlous situation back to its origin, the trail leads inexorably to Winston Raymond Peters. Remember the 2017 election? With just 7 percent of the vote, Peters held the balance of power and exercised it by anointing Ardern as prime minister when, morally, National had earned the right to govern with 44 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 38 per cent.

Had the New Zealand First leader done the honourable thing in 2017, Bill English would have remained prime minister and might have turned out to be a good one. Not only had he done much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes in the Key government, but he had a social conscience that marked him as a politician in the mould of National Party liberals from the Holyoake era – National’s golden age, when it won four consecutive terms.

But Peters gifted Labour with a glittering prize that they didn’t expect and hadn’t earned, and the rest is history. Ardern’s initially assured handling of the Christchurch mosque massacres, the Whakaari-White Island eruption and the Covid-19 crisis won her a cult-like following both at home and abroad – so much so that voters rewarded her with a decisive majority that conferred virtually absolute power, something never envisaged by the architects of the voting system.

Since then, other events have served only to consolidate Ardern’s power. Covid-19 provided a handy distraction from Labour’s agenda, pre-occupying the public and the media while Labour got on with the job of pursuing a programme of radical change that was mostly kept from the voters during the pandemic-dominated 2020 election campaign.

The media have been complicit in this process, for months on end treating the pandemic as if it was the only story of any consequence and ignoring, or at the very least playing down, elements of the government’s agenda that might cause public disquiet. Covid-19 has forced almost everything else off the news pages and the evening bulletins, allowing Labour’s activists to get on with their project virtually unhindered.

Peters, ironically, found himself ousted from Parliament, the voters finally having had enough of his decades of chicanery, so perhaps there’s some justice after all. But with the NZ First leader again hovering balefully around the periphery of politics, no one should forget his ignoble role in all this.

 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Don't mention the war

The most obvious question was the one Susie Ferguson didn’t ask during an interview on Morning Report this morning about the Crown’s settlement of Moriori compensation claims.

Speaking to Moriori spokesman Maui Solomon about yesterday’s passing of the Moriori Claims Settlement Bill, Ferguson tastefully avoided any mention of the invasion of the Moriori homeland Rekohu (aka the Chatham Islands) in 1835 by the Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama tribes from Taranaki, who killed or displaced an estimated 95 per cent of the peaceable resident people and enslaved the survivors. You might call it a “don’t mention the war” moment. 

Most listeners would have been wondering, like me, why the Crown (in other words, the taxpayer) is compensating Moriori for events that occurred five years before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed – events the Crown wasn’t implicated in, had no control over and for which it therefore bore no responsibility.

But that question wasn’t asked. Instead, Ferguson asked Solomon whether the $18 million in the settlement package was enough.

“It’s never enough,” came the reply. “We asked for much more, but how do you compensate [for] genocide?”

I should make it clear here that I’m not getting at Solomon, still less minimising the enormity of what happened to the Moriori. No one could begrudge them the return of their waahi tapu (which is also part of the settlement package), nor quibble about the significance of Parliament’s acknowledgment of their existence after they were for so long effectively written out of our history.

But the genocide – which is exactly what it was – wasn’t the Crown’s doing, and it seems only fair to ask why the Crown should be taking the rap for it. I would have been genuinely interested in hearing Solomon’s explanation, but we weren’t given the chance.  

 

 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Robin Bromby looks in the rear-vision mirror

Robin Bromby was the chief  reporter of The Dominion when I worked there as a very green young journalist in 1969-71. Robin, who remains actively engaged in freelance journalism in Sydney and has written several books (including a very good one on the decline of newspapers), sent  the following recollection in response to my post on the backlash against the media.

It may be of interest to those now deeply concerned — as they should be — by the state of the New Zealand media to have a snapshot of how different things were in Wellington 53 years ago. In 1968 I was transferred from The Dominion to its then Sunday tabloid, The Dominion Sunday Times, edited by the now late Jack Kelleher (who had been chief reporter on the daily when I was hired as a cadet there in 1962). Kelleher was a very devout Catholic and so I remember being surprised in 1968 when he told me he wanted a three-part series on abortion. (He didn’t have to move from his desk to instruct staff: the Sunday paper was run out of one modest room which accommodated three reporters, three sub-editors and the editor, the entire full-time staff of what was a national newspaper.) I was not given any instructions as to what the series should conclude apart from getting all sides of the issue. Actually, the series did not (so far as memory serves me) advocate either side’s case but presented a range of comments and facts. It ran in the paper over three Sundays pretty well untouched as it was written. On reflection, I assumed that Kelleher had strong personal views on the subject — he never voiced them to me, hence the assumption — but certainly did not impose them on the finished version of the series.

How different would that be today?

We were all aware of the strong ties to the National Party of those who controlled what was then the Wellington Publishing Company, but the Sunday paper at that time ran a good number of critical reports on the Holyoake government, including another series Kelleher got me to write investigating a government board chairman where grants were being given to associated parties of that person. Unfortunately, after Jack moved over to editing the daily paper his successor was less adept at judging the allowable boundaries and, after I wrote a piece highly critical of Robert Muldoon in 1969, I was reassigned back to the daily after, no doubt, all hell broke loose behind closed doors. But the next year Jack promoted me to chief reporter of the daily — where again he again gave me a reasonably free hand. The daily’s staff were by and large of the left — very much the soft left, of course — but looking back it seems remarkable that there was so little conflict between the functioning of the newsroom and management. But I guess that was an era when it would never have occurred to a reporter to push an agenda. We were there to break news and report it, not to comment on it.

(Robin's book Newspapers: A Century of Decline is available on Amazon. The editor who replaced Jack Kelleher at The Dominion Sunday Times was the late Frank Haden.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

No one should be surprised by a backlash against the news media

One of the least surprising things I’ve read lately is that journalists have been getting a hard time from protesters. I mean, who’d have thought?

Bryce Edwards reported that broadcaster Mihingarangi Forbes tweeted last week: “As a journo I have always felt safe at protests, most understand we have a job to do but the ‘Freedom and Choice’ protests feel different.  ‘F*ck the Media’ is the new catch phrase. It's dangerous.”

NewstalkZB political reporter Jason Walls struck a similar tone in an article headlined: Attacks on the media are escalating and look like they’ll only get worse. Noting that there had been “a stark and worrying change in the level of animosity directed at journalists”, Walls wrote that a 1News cameraman had been attacked at an anti-vaccination event in Greymouth and a Newshub reporter was heckled.

According to Walls, anti-vaccination protesters are united by distrust of the government and hatred of the mainstream media. When Jacinda Ardern disappointed protesters by not turning up as expected at a vaccination clinic in Whanganui, “the mob turned on reporters”. Police had to intervene as protesters “loudly yelled [sorry to be pedantic, but have you ever known anyone to yell quietly?] about how journalists’ salaries were paid by the Government”. 

Last Tuesday, a Stuff photographer was reportedly grabbed and pushed at the Freedom and Rights Coalition rally outside Parliament and protesters threw tennis balls at journalists (which sounds a charmingly gentle protest gesture, except that one claimed a ball was hurled at her head).

As depressing as this apparent trend is, it should surprise no one. I deplore attacks on journalists, just as I deplore attacks on anyone lawfully doing their job (supermarket checkout operators and parking meter wardens come to mind). But the media’s air of wounded innocence isn’t wholly convincing.

The first thing to acknowledge here is that journalists have never been popular. For as long as opinion polls have been conducted, journalists have jostled with politicians, car salesmen and real estate agents at the bottom of the “most trusted” rankings.

This is no mystery. It’s partly the “shoot the messenger” syndrome, where the bearers of bad news (and news tends to be bad; a fatal plane crash is news, but no one wants to read about a plane that has arrived safely) end up copping collateral blame for it. Journalists are associated in the public mind with adverse events and can serve as a convenient lightning rod for public resentment and anger.

They are seen, sometimes with justification, as exploiting human tragedy and being obnoxiously intrusive. (They do themselves no favours, for example, by harassing accused people outside courthouses, pursuing them down the street and shouting questions that they know won’t be answered, all for a bit of drama on the evening news bulletin.) Small wonder that in films and TV dramas – rare exceptions such as Spotlight or The Post aside – journalists are almost always portrayed negatively.

For all that, they have generally been tolerated. Even in the rage and heat of the 1981 Springbok tour protests, I don’t recall reporters or photographers being targeted for abuse beyond the occasional sotto-voce curse from rugby fans. It seemed to be accepted that they were performing a necessary function. 

So if the impressions of people like Mihingarangi Forbes and Jason Walls are correct and something different really is happening now, then perhaps the media should be asking why.

Part of the explanation, but only part, probably lies in the unusually brittle mood of the times. Covid-19 has set the country on edge and social media channels haven’t helped (do they ever?) by providing platforms for the extreme views of the paranoid and the perpetually enraged. Protest rallies like the one outside parliament bring together disparate groups whose grievances aren’t always easy to discern but who are united, as Walls says, by distrust of the government.

Traditionally the function of the media has been to stand back and report these events dispassionately. By sticking to their role as neutral observers and reporters of news, journalists generally managed to protect themselves against public acrimony.  But in recent years the media have made themselves active participants in the culture wars and in doing so, have stoked the fires of polarisation.

For decades, New Zealand had what was often described as a “broad church” media – one that catered to and reflected a wide range of political views. Comment was generally restricted to editorials, letters to the editor and clearly delineated opinion columns.

News pages were apolitical and any reporter presumptuous enough to express a personal view was likely to be quickly reined in. No journalists dreamed that they had a licence to moralise; that phenomenon would come later, when training shifted from the newsroom to the lecture room – from on-the-job learning (which, admittedly, was sometimes less than adequate) to a more academic grounding, often coloured by ideology and sociological theory.

Not so now. Today’s media are overtly and vigorously politicised. Identity politics is relentlessly promoted; journalists have become polemicists, using their privileged position to lecture readers, listeners and viewers and to put their own spin on events. “Consumers” of news, to use a ghastly contemporary expression, are bombarded with a barrage of ideological propaganda in place of straight news. (In fact many of today’s journalists have been indoctrinated with the notion that there’s no such thing as “straight” news; that it’s a mere “construct” created to serve the interests of those in power. But that’s another story.)

Some newspapers have taken the extraordinary step of placing themselves at odds with much of their readership by adopting political and ideological positions that they must know many of their readers don’t share. They are, in effect, alienating the people on whom they depend for support. Often their stance is one of moral superiority, implying to readers that they need to get on board or be dismissed as bigots and dinosaurs.

One obvious but telling example is the routine usage of Maori terms and place names that most readers, listeners and viewers are unfamiliar with. Usage of te reo has become both an ostentatious form of virtue-signalling and an ideological shibboleth, marking people as either enlightened or beyond the pale.

This is new. Many Maori words have long been adopted by Pakeha New Zealanders: for example, whanau, hui, iwi, kai, mana and taonga. They have been absorbed naturally and organically into New Zealand English over time and are used widely and unselfconsciously.

The difference now is that previously unfamiliar names and terms (Tamaki Makaurau for Auckland, motu for nation, mahi for work) are being used so routinely by those in positions of authority and influence – including journalists – that many New Zealanders feel their language has been taken from them without consultation, still less permission. It’s the difference between adopting Maori terms gradually through popular usage and social consensus, as in the past, and having them imposed by an elite and used as a test of ideological conformity.

On a broader level, bias that was once confined to editorials, where it was legitimate, now permeates the whole paper. It’s evident in the subjects that papers choose to cover and in how they report them (or don’t report them, as in the case of any heretical opinions on the subject of climate change, which are excluded as a matter of editorial policy).  Newspapers and other media have become platforms for the promotion of ideological agendas. Stories are often written in highly judgmental tones; just note the frequency with which loaded words like “racist”, "misogynistic" and ”transphobic” occur, as if these have agreed and settled meanings.  

The response has been a massive cancellation of subscriptions by the people most in the habit of reading newspapers, as confirmed by circulation figures which show a decline of about 16 per cent since 2019 for The Dominion Post and the Christchurch Press. (No figures are reported for the New Zealand Herald, which may in itself be significant). Depressingly, figures are no better for many provincial papers – although the ones least affected by the decline, significantly, are those that remain truly independent and locally owned, and which have tried to stick to their knitting.

In recent months the media have given the public even less reason to trust them by eagerly lining up to take ideologically contaminated money from the government’s so-called Public Interest Journalism Fund – or as I prefer to call it, the Pravda Project. No one is convinced by newspapers’ protestations that their integrity and independence are not compromised by signing up to a thinly disguised propaganda exercise; I’m not even sure they convince themselves. Well might protesters complain that journalists are paid by the state, because it’s almost true. Authoritarian governments overseas deal with the media by shutting down troublesome radio stations and newspapers, assassinating journalists or putting them in jail, but Labour under Ardern has realised there are less messy ways to ensure media loyalty.  

What makes things even worse is the tiresome sameness of the prevalent ideology. With the notable exception of commercial radio (and more specifically Newstalk ZB), there’s virtually no ideological contest within the New Zealand media. It is overwhelmingly homogeneous in its embrace of left-leaning orthodoxies.

The net effect is that trust in the media, never high even at the best of times, continues to decline, and I suspect more sharply than ever in the past few years. A survey by the Auckland University of Technology suggests that in 2021, only 48 percent of New Zealanders trust news in general, down from 53 percent last year.

To be fair, the same is true worldwide. The international Edelman Trust Barometer reports that trust in information sources has plunged to a record low, with trust in traditional media down from 65 percent in 2019 to 53 percent this year.

People no longer look to our journalistic institutions to reflect the society they live in. The crucial nexus between media institutions and the community they purport to serve has been strained to breaking point. In fact the media often seem implacably opposed to the society they live in and determined to re-shape it, whether people want it or not.

And there has been a change in the nature of that distrust. The old media were distrusted because they were seen (usually unfairly, I believe) as unethical and prepared to do anything to get “the story”. Now the media are widely seen as an institution that has squandered its democratic mandate because it no longer reflects – and in fact often actively disparages – mainstream community views and values. To many, the media have become an enemy of the people.

This is not to say journalism no longer performs a valuable and necessary function. There’s still plenty of quality journalism being produced in New Zealand, a recent example of which was an article on Stuff by Philip Matthews (not a journalist I have always seen eye-to-eye with in the past, as he would attest) on the complicated ethics of vaccination mandates. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but I sometimes get the feeling that some editors are now making a conscious effort to revert to traditional journalistic strengths and values, in which case I just hope they haven’t left it too late.

On that note, I’ve seen left-wing media commentators sneering at the notion that the late 20th century was a golden age of journalism – but it was. It was a time when the media made a genuine effort to be fair and even-handed, when they conscientiously reported events and issues that mattered to the community, and yet had the guts and resources to investigate wrongdoing and expose abuses of power. What’s more, they were profitable enough to be strong and independent.

I now barely recognise the media that I spent more than half a century working in. Rather than expressing hurt and surprise at the ugly backlash that has recently become apparent, perhaps journalists should ask themselves why it’s happening and how they might start rebuilding faith with the public.

 

 



Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Alranz: the radical fringe group that purports to speak for New Zealand women

There has been a changing of the guard at Alranz (the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand), the organisation formed in 1970 to lobby for the removal of restrictions on abortion.

Terry Bellamak, the voluble former Goldman Sachs executive from New York who brought an American assertiveness to the Alranz presidency, has stepped down after six years. The new interim president is Tracy Morison, from Massey University.

A look at Morison’s academic CV is instructive. I’ve taken the following verbatim from Massey’s website:

Tracy Morison is a senior lecturer in health psychology. She is also Editor of Feminism & Psychology and an Honorary Research Associate of the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction programme at Rhodes University (South Africa) where she obtained her Ph.D. Her postdoctoral work was conducted at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa, where she subsequently worked as a senior researcher before returning to the academe. Dr Morison’s research is located at the intersection of health psychology, critical psychology, and feminism. Her work is driven by a social justice orientation and seeks to explore how the socio-political context shapes and constrains sexual and reproductive decision-making, relations, and practices. A key focus in her work is on gender, sexualities, and their interrelationship with other social locations. She draws on feminist and other critical theories and in-depth qualitative methodologies to illuminate the multiple, complex processes in which sexualities and reproduction are embedded.

Insofar as it’s possible to make any sense of all this, we can conclude that Morison inhabits the furthermost reaches of post-modernist lunacy. Her work bears no obvious relationship with the real world that most New Zealanders inhabit. Phrases such as “critical theory”, “critical studies” and “social justice” (a neo-Marxist construct that can mean just about anything, but which usually serves as a smokescreen for attacks on capitalism) point to a career built on abstruse theory and the determined pursuit of radical ideological agendas that in no way relate to the needs or wishes of ordinary people. This tells us something about the quintessential character of the zealots who run Alranz and who purport to speak for the women of New Zealand.

No surprises there. I don’t think Alranz ever pretended to be a grass-roots organisation. It has always appeared to represent a privileged feminist metropolitan elite, the members of which occupy positions of cultural influence and are adept at exploiting supportive connections in politics and the media.

Estimates based on information supplied by the Registrar of Incorporated Societies indicate that in 2018 (the most recent year for which figures are available), the membership of Alranz may have been as low as 36 and certainly no higher than 60. Under its constitution, the quorum for an AGM is four members, which surely says something. But Alranz does better on Facebook, where I’m told it has 2300 followers.

In this respect it stands in stark contrast to the country’s biggest pro-life group, Voice for Life, which has 1100 paid-up members, 10,000 supporters on its mailing list, nearly 14,000 Facebook followers and 32 apparently active branches. But ask yourself this question: which organisation gets more media exposure – Alranz or VFL?

Incidentally, the Alranz website refers to its new interim president as a “tauiwi academic”, which is a woke way of saying that like her immediate predecessor, she’s not a native-born New Zealander. (Morison’s CV indicates she’s from South Africa.)

Nothing surprising there, either. As I noted in a post last March: “As immigration has ramped up, so New Zealand has become home to an increasing number of activists, political aspirants, bureaucrats and academics from countries whose values and mindsets are often dissimilar to ours.”

Some of our most vigorous agitators for radical change are relative newcomers. As I said in that same post, we shouldn't expect immigrants to remain silent and invisible. But neither should they expect those of us who were born and raised here, whose families in many cases have been here for generations, and who have paid taxes and voted in New Zealand elections all our lives, to gratefully embrace newcomers whose first instinct on arrival is to plunge into political activism aimed at refashioning our laws and institutions.  

Bellamak, for example, had no compunctions about wanting to limit New Zealanders’ freedom of speech by lobbying for so-called “safe areas” around abortion clinics where peaceful protest vigils would be made illegal. She tried to justify this interference with our traditional rights by citing examples of violent anti-abortion protests in her native America, presumably because she couldn’t find any evidence of them happening here. Nonetheless the shameful “safe areas” legislation is making its way through Parliament now, despite the Attorney-General admitting that it cuts across the free speech provisions in the Bill of Rights Act. 

But back to Alranz, the continued existence of which raises an interesting question. Since last year, New Zealand has had one of the world’s most permissive abortion regimes, with virtually no restrictions on abortion until the moment of birth. The law is so lacking in basic humanity that it contains no provision for the protection of babies accidentally born alive in late-term abortions. They are left to die. But legally sanctioned, no-questions-asked abortion is not enough for the zealots of Alranz, who have vowed to keep fighting for “improvements” to the law. So my question is: what type of grotesque, dystopian, nihilistic world do they envisage? I shudder to think what the answer might be.

(Disclosure: My sister is a former branch president of Voice for Life.)

Bob Brockie on matauranga and the fraud we call postmodernism

Today I'm honoured to publish a guest post by the redoubtable Dr Bob Brockie - scientist, sceptic and long-time cartoonist for The National Business Review (in its pre-woke era).




In the 1960s, French intellectuals Michel Foucault,  Jacques Derrida and others dreamt up  a new philosophy that came to be known as  Postmodernism.

Dissatisfied with modernity, they sought to overthrow its thinking . They asserted that men, women,  black, white, strait, gay, powerful or powerless read words differently, that truth, reason, justice,  social progress, and natural reality  mean different things to different people and are really  code words  for the establishment. They think the Enlightenment is a fraud perpetrated by white males to consolidate  their own power. They want to empower the marginalised.

These people argue that there are no such things as facts, only opinions about facts. Everybody’s opinions are of equal value, whether you’re a rocket scientist or a stone-age nobody, and everybody’s opinions are to be respected and never questioned or challenged. The supernatural and ambiguity are OK. Rules are made to be broken. Make your own rules. Anything goes.

Postmodernists argued that science is not absolute, and no better than any other system of knowledge — if not worse.  In 1996,  the postmodern journal Social Text published a ‘science wars’ double issue in which eighteen authors presented their case against science. A typical extract laid out the battle lines:

“In these wars, the self-appointed defenders of Science are seeking to police the boundaries of knowledge and to resurrect canonical knowledge of nature, against the attempts of the Others (including feminists, antiracists, psychoanalysts, post-colonialists, leftists, multiculturalists, relativists, postmodernists, etc., in all our bewildering diversity) to extend, transform, or maybe even dissolve the boundaries between the privileged truth claims of science and other knowledge”.

Postmodernism spread like wildfire in the late 20th century. Free of rules, architects, artists, musicians, linguists, sociologists, and educationists struck out in new directions with some remarkable achievements but left science untouched.  Since the 1990s, most of the world has moved  beyond the extremes of postmodernism but, belatedly, New Zealand has entrenched it in the country’s laws, in its schools, and universities.

New Zealander  Sir Paul Callaghan famously wrote  the aim of science is “To make discoveries  of permanent value, to transcend nation, race, culture and political perspectives in truly international endeavour, and to collaborate with people all over the world”.

Council reps from the humanities on our Royal Society, calling themselves Te Whainga Aronui o Te Aparangi, don’t wear this. They have brought their postmodernist ideology with them and, parroting Foucault and Derrida, assert that science is ‘based on ethnocentric bias and outmoded dualisms (and the power relations embedded in them)” and want “to place the Treaty of Waitangi centrally and bring alongside that, inequality and diversity issues holistically”.

Postmodernist councillors have white-anted the scientific integrity of our Royal Society and brought political, racial, cultural, and religious bias into its workings. In embracing the Treaty they are  imposing political, racial and cultural obligations, expectations, and limitations   on scientists - the equivalent of imposing the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, the Hindu Vedas, or the Book of Mormon on them.

World science and matauranga cannot be reconciled.   Science operates in the natural world but Maori thought is rooted in the supernatural.

Matauranga is often defined as traditional knowledge, passed from generation to generation. A prominent Maori maintains that indigenous knowledge belongs to iwi and that they should control it. How different is science! All science is provisional, and open to criticism and challenges. But challenge matauranga and you will be branded as racist.

Earlier this year, a Government educational working group argued that Maori science (matauranga) be given equal status with world science in our school curricula. Seven Auckland professors were alarmed at this idea and wrote that Maori knowledge ‘falls far short of what we define as science.’ The academics were also alarmed that kids could be taught that science is a tool of colonisation and belittles Maori culture.

The president and CEO of the Royal Society responded by saying they ‘utterly reject [the professors’] narrow and outmoded definition of science’ and, again parroting Foucault and Derrida, 'strongly uphold the value of matauranga’. What is a science teacher to say when a pupil asks which of the two stories is true?

Our Royal Society was once a bastion of science but has now abandoned truth, reason, and science to become a mouthpiece for faddish woke politics. The supernatural world of matauranga would be better taught in religious studies instead of science. 

 


Thursday, November 4, 2021

The rule of law takes another hit

Police impotently stood back and watched as a Mongrel Mob funeral procession consisting of more than 100 cars and motorbikes travelled to a gang member’s burial at Whenua Tapu cemetery, north of Porirua, in a brazen contravention of Covid-19 rules.

A video on Stuff showed the “mourners” occupying all three northbound lanes of the motorway. Two illegally stood on the back of the ute carrying the coffin. Others hung out of car windows. There were repeated bleeps on the Stuff video as motorcyclists passed beneath an overbridge, indicating they were shouting obscenities at the camera.

The procession didn’t take a direct route. It started at Cannons Creek, in Porirua East, and wound its way through Waitangirua, Ascot Park and distant Titahi Bay - the latter a diversion that would have taken the convoy through the heart of Porirua - before heading north. In other words gang members took an extravagantly roundabout route with the presumed intention of creating maximum disruption.

It was impossible to regard the funeral as anything other than a deliberate act of provocation - a taunt to the police by a criminal organisation confident that it can break laws with impunity. It was not so much a display of grief as a triumphal show of strength.

And the enforcers of the law meekly complied. Police merely “monitored” the funeral. Stuff quoted a spokeswoman as saying resources were pulled from across the region to “help” with the event.

“Help”? Did she really say that? Good grief. Things are even worse than we thought.

Stuff earlier quoted Inspector Nick Thom, Kapiti-Mana crime prevention manager, as warning that the public should expect significant traffic disruption. He said the police respected the mourners’ wish to grieve and he lamely urged the gang to be considerate to other road users. Fat chance.

Thom has the wrong job title. It should be crime facilitation manager. His comments indicated the police knew exactly what was in store. By allowing the procession to proceed, they were effectively accessories in the commission of multiple law breaches.

It was the third such display of gang strength, under the pretext of mourning, in a matter of weeks. Alert Level 2 guidelines stipulate no more than 100 attendees at funerals and require organisers to record the names and contact details of attendees (yeah, right) in case contact tracing might be necessary, but gangs have a nod-and-wink exemption despite being implicated in the spread of Covid-19 in Auckland, Northland and the Waikato.

National MP Simeon Brown pointed out that instead of insisting the Mob obey the law, police put the onus on the public to avoid parts of Porirua. This gives new meaning to the term “copout” and will inevitably lead people to wonder whose side the police are on. Brown called it “another example of why gangs feel they are above the law under this soft-on-crime Labour government, while law-abiding Kiwis are told to stay out of their way”.

The rule of law, already fragile and exercised highly selectively, has taken another damaging hit – as has public confidence in the police.

Footnote: The original version of this post included a second item about a judicial appointment which on further consideration (and for perfectly sound reasons) I subsequently decided to delete.  


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

On Greta Thunberg and the fawning media

The media love affair with Greta Thunberg continues unabated. If anything it has become even more frenzied. COP-26 has given the diminutive, garrulous Swede a platform where she commands as much attention as presidents and prime ministers.

And it seems she has an understudy from New Zealand: a young woman named India Logan-Riley, who claims to speak for indigenous communities.

Logan-Riley, who is described as Maori, is part of the official programme in Glasgow. In her address at the opening ceremony she used highly emotive rhetoric reminiscent of Thunberg. “Six years ago I spoke these stories into this space and every year since I have repeated the same words – wildfires, sea level rise, wildfires, suffering, sea level rise, biodiversity loss, sea level rise.

“This is an invitation to you, this COP: learn our histories, listen to our stories, honour our knowledge and get in line or get out of the way.”

Setting aside the fact that she borrowed her punchline from Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ – “Your old road is rapidly agein’/Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand” (though without the old-fashioned courtesy of Dylan’s “please”) – her speech was notable for its overweening sense of entitlement and self-importance. Logan-Riley is certain she knows the answers and assumes the right to be heard, although where and how she got her mandate isn’t clear.

This is something she has in common with the disturbingly manic Thunberg, who makes no attempt to conceal her contempt for the politicians in Glasgow. “They have led us nowhere,” she told her besotted followers. “Change is not going to come from inside there. That is not leadership – this is leadership.

“We’re sick and tired of it and we’re going to make the change whether they like it or not,” she raged, before leading her disciples in a chant of “No more blah blah blah.”

Later, looking immensely pleased with herself and bathing in the uncritical admiration of her fans, she sang “You can shove your climate crisis up your arse” to the tune of Coming ‘Round the Mountain.

But here’s the thing about people like Thunberg and Logan-Riley. They can afford to be contemptuous and disdainful of those in power, safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to come up with practicable solutions to the challenge of climate change.

Thunberg and Logan-Riley can posture, moralise, ridicule and pontificate for all they’re worth, knowing they don’t have to bear any personal consequences for decisions made (or not made, as the case may be).

No one elected them and they’re not accountable to anyone. At the end of COP-26 they can walk away and start planning their next attention-seeking stunts. This is the crucial defining difference between the noisy, know-it-all activists and the politicians, who have countries to worry about and voters to answer to.  

I doubt that the thought of collapsing economies and massive social dislocation keeps Thunberg awake at night, assuming that it even occurs to her. But these are factors politicians must weigh in deciding how far to go in countering climate change. Thunberg, on the other hand, just wants action, regardless of the human cost.

For all their glib talk and showboating, the politicians she disparages have to live with the consequences of whatever they decide. In that vital respect they are the moral superiors of Thunberg and her moronic followers. It’s a shame the fawning media coverage doesn’t reflect that.