VJMP Reads: The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand VI

This reading carries on from here.

The sixth essay in The Interregnum is ‘Radical Kaupapa Maori Politics’ by Carrie Stoddart-Smith. Turning to maoridictionary.co.nz I discover that kaupapa means, in this context, something like ‘agenda’ (indeed, within the first page it has been defined as “something like first principles”), but the essay itself explores the various definitions of ‘Kaupapa Maori’.

At the core of this essay is the question that Maori have been asking themselves for 200 years. To what extent to we cling to the old ways, and to what extent to we abandon them for the sake of adaptation to a world that is different to what it was when the old days arose?

Many mainstream readers, conditioned to mainstream journalism, will find the tone of this essay jarring, as it is heavy on the kind of guilt-based sermon-style rhetoric that so many have learned to manipulate otherwise well-meaning audiences with.

It’s also full of the unnecessary race-baiting and shit-stirring that has become associated with the American style of race rhetoric, such as when Stoddart-Smith justifies the exclusion of non-Maori with “empowering Maori voices that continue to be silenced by the noise of history, and by the protestations of white New Zealand that insist on shouting us down and shutting us out.”

Unfortunately this dishonest, deliberately aggravating style of rhetoric is a throwback to the Cultural Marxism espoused in the introductory essay. Only “white New Zealand” is the enemy; the fact that Asian and Pacific Islander New Zealanders think much less of Maoris than white people do, not having had two centuries of living together, is ignored on account of not fitting the narrative (the fact that Asians and Pacific Islanders are harder to guilt trip may also be a factor).

It’s a shame that a confrontational and antagonistic stylistic approach was taken, because there’s plenty of philosophical value in this essay. In particular, Stoddart-Smith draws multiple parallels between kaupapa Maori and the anarchist philosophy of mutualism.

After all, pre-European contact Maori did not have a central government, and as a consequence they adapted to learn patterns of mutual support that helped them and their neighbours to survive. In some cases the agreements over which tribe had the rights to access what were very sophisticated and complicated, but the important thing was that they were mutually consensual, in contrast to today’s arrangement where representatives of the Queen enforce the law whether people like it or not.

If this side of things had been emphasised, this could have been a good essay. Unfortunately it’s full of common separatist canards like “colonialism embedded patriarchy in tikanga Maori” and the revisionist attempt to ignore He iwi tahi tatou, as if the historical nature of interactions between Maori and British settlers had been entirely involuntary on the part of the Maori, rather than mutually beneficial.

One feels that a sophisticated approach to redressing the historical wrongs done to the Maori people, and this essay falls a long way short of that. It is, however, a good example of Marxist agitprop.

If Politicians Don’t Like Binge Drinking, They Need To Legalise The Cannabis Alternative

Smoking cannabis is safer than drinking a crate, but if we’re not allowed cannabis then we’ll drink the crate

Another Crate Day, another opportunity for self-righteous old wowsers to stand up and condemn partying and having a good time. Unfortunately, New Zealand is full of these useless old bastards, and they’re as stupid as they are pompous. If our political class had any clue, they would legalise cannabis immediately so that there was a recreational alternative to alcohol.

Jonathan Coleman, the former National Health Minister who presided over the gutting of the New Zealand mental health system and the subsequent highest teen suicide rate in the world, is currently one of the most prominent. Coleman slashed funding to rape crisis centres and community crisis teams for the sake of tax cuts for the wealthy, driving many poor families into a desperation that was frequently fatal, and this week he was in the news criticising Crate Day.

Coleman said that Kiwi patterns of heavy alcohol use are “part of a past New Zealand should be leaving behind”. Binge drinking is, indeed, a remnant of the sleazy and vulgar New Zealand that many of us want to leave behind, but the political class gets the Police to put us in cages if we use any alternative to alcohol.

The vast majority of us know that cannabis is a safer alternative to alcohol, and we have been trying to tell the ruling class this ever since it was made medicinally legal in California in 1996. So why didn’t the National Party legalise it when they were in power?

There is plenty of evidence that shows that rates of binge drinking decrease when cannabis is legalised. The reasons why are obvious to anyone who thinks about it honestly: people have recreational needs that must be met otherwise mental illness will result, and getting fucked up can be one of those needs (of course the old wowsers and control freaks will never admit this).

Given a choice of different ways to get fucked up, most people will choose the healthiest way, unless they have a death wish, and this is why rates of cannabis use continue to increase in the West. When alcohol is the only option, it will have to do.

Robin Room, an Australian professor, has himself claimed that legalising cannabis is the right thing to do because there are fewer social harms associated with it than with alcohol. Pointing out something that has been long known to knowledgeable people, Professor Room has stated that the association between alcohol and violence makes it more dangerous than using cannabis ever realistically could be.

There is already ample evidence that legalising cannabis is the right thing to do from the perspective of decreasing human suffering, and if our political class had any sense they would get onto it immediately.

Coleman said “Crate Day is something, in modern New Zealand, we can do without.” What New Zealand could really do without is ignorant, arrogant, stubborn old pricks like Jonathan Coleman, who refuse to do the decent thing and admit that cannabis prohibition is an offence against the New Zealand people.

In New Zealand, Growing Cannabis is Worse Than Raping Children With No Remorse

This month, Brian Borland (pictured) received a longer prison sentence for growing cannabis than Noel Edward Thomas Williams did for raping children and blackmailing their family

New Zealanders generally like to believe that they live in a fair society. We like to believe that those tasked with maintaining justice, like our District Court judges, act fairly and with compassion. But this is no longer possible if you look at how the New Zealand court system treated a man who grew an illicit medicine, compared to a literal child rapist, this month.

Brian Borland, of Daktory fame, was sentenced to four years and nine months prison for four cannabis charges earlier this month, while a few weeks later a Noel Edward Thomas Williams was sentenced to only four years in prison for literally raping a child and showing no remorse.

No Kiwi can fail to be disgusted by the absolute failure of our “justice” system to deliver anything like justice this November. Edwards was found guilty of raping a girl aged between 12 and 16 and indecently assaulting a child under 12, showed no remorse at any point and despite the judge saying “for a child this is the last thing that is wanted,” – in other words, this was the most evil thing that a man could ever do to an innocent child – he got less prison than a cannabis grower.

What’s wrong with our country when you can rape some children and blackmail them for decades, destroying them psychologically and showing no remorse even after being caught like an utter psychopath, and get less of a prison sentence than someone growing a medicinal plant?

VJMP Reads: The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand V

This reading carries on from here.

The fifth essay in The Interregnum is ‘Welfare and Precarious Work’ by Chloe King.

Unlike the other offerings so far, this essay actually resonates with people who are working class. Instead of waffling on about climate change and other shibboleths of the global elite classes, King focuses on real issues that affect real Kiwis: poor wages, poor security of work and a pitiful excuse for a social safety net.

This essay uses anecdotal examples of young Kiwis trying to make it in a workplace that is forcing them into ever worse conditions. The nature of work in New Zealand is becoming ever more stressful as things like the 90-day firing law undermine employment security, and the essay does a good job of showing how this leads to increased rates of mental illness.

It also correctly draws attention to the cruelty of the Fifth National Government. Paula Bennett’s welfare reforms now force people seeking a benefit to fill out a 48-page form of questions – obviously a considerable challenge to the kind of person whose literacy levels place them in precarious economic positions.

King also speaks to a very real sense of outrage when she writes about how mentally ill people are often bullied back into the workforce well before they are ready – a short-sighted approach whose shortcomings become obvious when the inevitable next mental breakdown occurs.

Describing something she calls “constricted choice”, King details a very real problem in the modern workforce: our choice of jobs has increased, but the average quality of those jobs has plummeted, meaning that Kiwis are essentially forced into taking poorly paid work out of duress. The fact that we have a wide choice of crap jobs doesn’t actually make it any better.

Ultimately, King hits the bulls-eye when she states simply that “Workers deserve to be paid fairly and treated with dignity and respect.” She is right when she points out that the nature of workplace relations in New Zealand have deteriorated to the point where the emphasis is on coercing workers into obedience rather than encouraging them.

The “politics of selfishness” is a very real thing, especially in New Zealand, and King rightly points out that she’s not asking for much when she posits that “no-one should work and be poor at the same time.” It’s not much to ask for, but we’re still not getting it, and the essay concludes with a call to collective action.

In summary, Chloe King’s piece strikes much harder and more accurately at the heart of the issue than the previous efforts in this book: poor living and working conditions right here, right now, not vague threats of what might happen in 50 years’ time. It is easy to get the impression that the left is going to do much better by proposing a universal basic income than it is by going on about climate change, and so for their sake they’d do better promoting voices like King’s.

If You Want the Young to Avoid Smoking, Properly Fund a Mental Health System

The way to lower rates of tobacco use is not by raising taxes on the substance but by curing the mental illnesses that lead to people finding solace in smoking

Decades of government propaganda has convinced most people that tobacco smoking is a harmful addiction with absolutely no benefits whatsoever. Unfortunately, this brutalist approach to what is really a complicated issue neglects the very real psychiatric benefits of smoking tobacco. This essay proposes that the only realistic way to get young people to avoid smoking is to properly fund a mental health system.

Because our culture is going backwards in many ways, we are losing a lot of wisdom that used to be common. A lot of old folk remedies have been forgotten because a large pharmaceutical company was able to make profits selling an alternative. Cannabis is the most obvious of these, but tobacco risks becoming another.

Tobacco has been used in the West for its anti-anxiolytic and antidepressant qualities for hundreds of years, beginning with its discovery by Europeans in South America. The substance has a long history of shamanic use in South America, where some traditions seemed to believe that the exhaled smoke carried one’s wishes up to God.

Unfortunately, knowledge about how to use this substance wisely has been lost, and most people have drifted to either the extreme of smoking a pack a day or the extreme of thinking that tobacco has no benefits at all. Subtlety has been forgotten.

The first public government campaign against tobacco smoking was carried out by Nazi Germany. The authoritarian nature of the National Socialists made them well suited for ignoring the mental health benefits of the substance. Despite that, the Nazis were unwilling to go quite as far as the New Zealand Government and try to have the substance banned.

The truth is that people smoke tobacco because it feels good, and that tobacco feels good not because it gives an instant rush of pleasure that makes you addicted but because it alleviates suffering that already existed in the smoker’s mind.

If it was true that it gave people a rush of instant pleasure then everyone should become addicted, but this is not at all the case. People who are suffering psychologically are far more likely to become addicted, for the simple reason that smoking tobacco temporarily takes the suffering away. This appears to be especially true of people suffering from schizophrenia, depression or anxiety.

Some will say that these people have “addictive personalities”, but that is rubbish. The simple fact is that people who are suffering are more likely to take a substance that alleviates that suffering than people who are not suffering – this is obvious if one considers the balance of incentives.

And so they smoke tobacco because it helps them deal with stress, anxiety, rage, depression, and a range of neurotic and psychotic disorders.

The correct approach here is not to brutally force the citizenry into abstinence by taxing the mentally ill into poverty like a 20th century authoritarian hellhole would, but to cure the mental illnesses that cause people to smoke tobacco before they start smoking it.

Fundamentally, this means two interrelated things have to change. The first is for the Government to acknowledge that mental illness are legitimate health problems in the same way that physical illnesses are, and to properly fund a mental health system. With a properly funded mental health system psychiatrists will be able to keep up to date in their field instead of parroting 30-year old drug war propaganda because they have no time to research.

For this to be possible depends on the second thing, which is that New Zealand makes a cultural change in which it acknowledges that mental illnesses are legitimate problems in the same way that physical illnesses are, and that “hardening up” when you are suffering from depression makes as much sense as hardening up when you have a broken leg, and is equally as likely to kill you if you try to go on with your life without getting help.

VJMP Reads: The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand IV

This reading carries on from here.

The fourth essay in The Interregnum is ‘Climate Change and Just Transition’ by Edward Miller. Keeping with the theme of the book so far, Miller describes himself as “a political activist with a keen interest in global justice,” and declares the enemy as “the deeply held commitment of large businesses and governments to maintaining economic growth at all costs.”

Miller laments that neoliberalism has made conditions worse for the “most vulnerable of society,” and it is for them who Miller claims to speak. There is already a problem with this, as anyone who has spent time around the most vulnerable of society would know, and it’s that people with pressing, immediate problems couldn’t care less about things like “global justice”.

Writing of the need to sacrifice economic growth for the sake of lowering our carbon emissions, Miller suggests that he is completely engrossed in the bubble of middle-class privilege, like many Green supporters. The practical reality is that sacrificed economic growth means workers getting fired, hours being cut, health care being postponed or cancelled, and children going hungry – considerations often lost on the young and carefree.

Action on climate change is described as something “we so desperately need” – further evidence that Miller lives in an echo chamber. What we need are better wages, better houses, and better attitudes to mental healthcare and to child abuse. Problems with proximate causes and clear solutions. Focusing on problems with clear solutions will all us to ensure that our energies are not wasted from virtue signalling about issues we cannot affect.

Much like other commentators in this book so far, Miller attacks neoliberalism as if it was an evil that sprang from nowhere upon an unsuspecting world in the mid 1980s. This is perhaps to be expected of young writers who are yet to comprehend that history and the world existed before they were born, and were not things discovered by them.

But it’s difficult to take seriously a work that does not place neoliberalism in its context of the complete collapse of the Soviet Union and the West’s increasing awareness that Communism had directly led to the starvation of tens of millions of people. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Communism appeared to the world as a monstrous evil that had, after almost half a century, finally been defeated. It was natural that things move in the direction away from it.

Almost certainly, this movement away from Communism went too far, as political movements tend to do, and so neoliberalism does need to be balanced. But we don’t need to balance it with economic and social policies that have established historical precedents of failure.

The idea of returning the means of production to the masses via an unelected ideological elite that purports to speak for those masses is known to be suicidal, but Miller avoids this easy fantasy, making a successful point when he promotes the idea of a universal basic income by means of the Government printing money.

Unfortunately, the fate of those other men who have proposed debt-free Government-backed money (McKinley, Lincoln, Hitler, Kennedy, Gadaffi) is ignored here. Perhaps this book is not thick enough for the kind of investigation necessary for such a thing.

VJMP Reads: The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand III

This reading carries on from here.

The third essay in The Interregnum is “Reimagining the Economy” by Wilbur Townsend. I must admit that reading a book that opens with several Marx and Gramsci quotes which then goes into radical economic intervention makes me think of the millions of people who starved to death in the 20th century. Despite that, I continue in the belief that the left must have learned to moderate its radicalism by now.

Promisingly, this essay opens by sticking to sober facts. Townsend points out that the economy has grown by 48% since 1990, but the average wage is only 22% higher, on account of that the dividends of this greater economic growth is not being distributed. Moreover, wages in finance and insurance have grown 62% while wages in hospitality have grown 3%.

“There is money being earned in this country but, increasingly, it isn’t being earned by us.” This is the central lament of this essay, and it’s a fair one. After all, neoliberalism and free trade are sold to the people as innovations that will increase the logistical efficiency of getting cheap goods and services to market. But it’s not worth saving $500 on a television if you also lose $15,000 in wages.

In an odd coincidence, the essay contains a reference to Luddites, in the context of people who opposed technological advancement on the basis that it destroyed labour opportunity, and who question the liberating potential of these advancements. Jonty Gillespie and the machine cultists in The Verity Key refer to people as Luddites if they’re not interested in going deep enough into a virtual environment to forget the outside world.

Despite representing working-class sentiments more faithfully than Morgan Godfery managed in his opening effort, the middle-class social justice warrior influence does shine through at some points in Townsend’s essay, such as when he laments that “Misogynistic workplaces” and “sexist bosses” are responsible for the dearth of female truckies and wharfies. One suspects that some of Townsend’s acquaintances would happily have a proportion of men castrated if such was considered necessary to “solve the gender gap”.

Like many in the left of today, biological explanations for gender differences are avoided with superstitious fervour.

The youthful idealism also shines through when he argues for a universal basic income.

No matter how good the arguments for a universal basic income are, we have never had one before and there are good reasons for this. Townsend possesses an eerie certitude about the idea that a universal basic income would lead to a sharp increase in the quality of life, and, although there’s good reason to agree with him, raising the spectre of people dropping out of society to move to Takaka and smoke bongs might not sell it to a Middle New Zealand that just put the National Party in power for nine years.

Townsend takes this idealism so far as to insist that the factories, machines and raw materials should be returned to the collective. He pre-empts the obvious criticism by acknowledging that historians don’t have much time for Communism, but he waves it away by saying “I suspect they just haven’t noticed it done well.”

Despite this, he makes a good point when he mentions that sovereign wealth funds could serve as the capital owners of a range of national assets or robot workfleets, and from there a universal basic income might become possible.

In summary, this essay mixes some good points with a terrifyingly nonchalant self-righteous belief in the primacy of Marxist ideas. It’s probably fair to consider this a piece inspired by youthful idealism, despite the intelligent points occasionally raised.

VJMP Reads: The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand II

This reading carries on from here.

The second essay in The Interregnum is called ‘Speech and Silence in the Public Sphere’ by Andrew Dean. It recounts the story of the abuse copped by Eleanor Catton in the wake of her criticism of the direction the county was taking in 2015, and how this is indicative of deteriorating levels of public discourse.

Although most of the essay is devoted to quoting Philip Catton, which makes one wonder why Professor Catton didn’t write the essay himself, it aptly summarises the state of the cultural wars in New Zealand and in the West. The narrative of neoliberalism is triumphant; its victims are marginalised because their suffering goes against this narrative.

I was in Philip Catton’s History of Science class at the University of Canterbury in the year 2000. It’s curious to think about what the professor teaching that class 100 years from now will say about our time, and about the quality of our public discourse. Dean is right: our public discourse has degenerated to a shameful level, even as the Internet has theoretically made it easier than ever to share science, knowledge and truth.

Catton and Dean both have a point when they say that inequality has made the level of discourse more degenerate. The greater the inequality in a society, the more criticism of it is dismissed as “whinging” by those at the top and their lackeys in the mainstream media. Furthermore, the greater the inequality the more society becomes stratified into subgroups that speak their own dialect, so that it becomes difficult to communicate between different positions on the hierarchy.

The worse any one group of people is doing, the less their voices fit the neoliberal narrative that “Everything is better than ever, so spend spend spend!” And so, the more their voices are silenced by a mainstream media that is beholden to the same capitalist interests who support neoliberalism.

Dean refers to the same pattern that Dan McGlashan calls the “general disenfranchisement rule” in the demographic analysis Understanding New Zealand. It’s a feedback loop in which increasing inequality causes the people in the lower socioeconomic demographics to lose faith in the belief that the system represents them at all, which leads to a decreased turnout rate in elections, which leads to a system that represents them even less, leading to a further decreased rate and so on.

He also mentions the effect that neoliberalism had has on the discourse at our universities. Instead of acting as the conscience of the nation, our universities have to compete for students in order to get funding, which means that they have to present a certain image. In the case of New Zealand universities, which get a lot of international students from Asia, it is almost impossible to have a public discussion about the need for cannabis law reform.

All in all, this essay is pleasingly accurate and concise, and ends by pointing out that not only it is necessary to point out the failings of neoliberalism it is also getting harder to do because of the silencing of dissenting voices to the mainstream narrative.

VJMP Reads: The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand I

The Interregnum: Rethinking New Zealand is a small book of essays that is for sale at the Volume bookstore in Nelson, by Bridget Williams Books. The blurb on the back asks the question of whether New Zealand’s political settlement is beginning to fray, and purports to “interrogate” the future from a youth perspective.

The first essay, by editor Morgan Godfery, is called “The Voices of A New Generation” and opens by relating an anti-TPPA demonstration in Auckland. It breathlessly describes the excitement of thousands of diverse people coming together to oppose the signing of the multilateral trade agreement.

Reading this piece, something about it speaks to the lack of purpose that the young generation now has. The fight against apartheid seemed meaningful at the time; it seemed a great evil was being fought. A law that says that a large section of the population are second-class humans, for no other reason than skin colour, seems like the sort of arbitrary and cruel treatment that everyone should be against.

But can the same be said of international trade? Who really understands it well enough to decide? And so what if “trade agreements are signed”?

By the fourth page of this essay there is already a Marx quote, which bodes poorly. The reader gets the sentiment that the new voice here is going to be an echo of the same social justice warriors seen overseas. If not, why oppose something as vague and nebulous as the TPPA, instead of protesting about poor wages, poor housing, poor mental health outcomes?

The essay finds its feet when it hones in on the real enemy: neoliberalism. Godfery mentions the damage done to the national psyche by the Mother of All Budgets, and it feels like he speaks for many when he says that the children condemned to poverty by Richardson’s Budget are now adults, some of us with our own children.

But again, this speaks to the confusion in the New Zealand Left. What to make of the fact that the signing of the TPPA was protested under a National Government, with many prominent Labour supporters in attendance, and then the Labour Government went and signed it anyway? No-one knows yet if Labour will get criticised for their evident support of neoliberalism, or whether people will let it pass.

This introductory essay declares that the book is for those who have “a fierce desire to radically reshape politics.” It proposes that instead of focusing on “returns on investment”, that we return to a politics of “higher principles and values”.

This is all very well, but the question that strikes one is: whose higher principles and values? Because usually when the working class votes for people promising to govern by higher principles, it turns out that those principles only apply to a chosen few groups, and if you’re not one of them then you’re “privileged” (“privileged” means “untermensch” in social justice speak”.

We can see this now with Jacinda Ardern’s decision to give Manus Island “refugees” her highest priority, while saying nothing about the Kiwis suffering from the illegal status of medicinal cannabis. Unfortunately for medicinal cannabis users, official victim status has so far eluded them, and so they continue to be ignored.

Concluding with half a dozen mentions of the word “love”, this essay promises that the book will make for interesting reading for the sake of political philosophy. However, it’s not possible to believe that a book that opens by quoting several Marxists could be entirely trustworthy or honest, even if it is earnest.

It remains to see what these higher principles are.