Friday, August 01, 2014

One law for all?

Jamie Whyte's "one law for all" speech was disappointing.  Not because of what his end goals are (which are largely ignored by his critics because he gave them so much else to aim at), but because the rhetoric was clumsy and in my view, counter-productive.

One of the most corrosive elements in New Zealand is the widely held consensus amongst most political parties and indeed the bureaucracy and media, that there remains a strong element of racial determinism around the lives people lead, at least for Maori.  This being the idea that the reason Maori on average perform worse in terms of a wide range of social indicators compared to individuals from other ethnic groups, is due to a mix of the legacy of what happened to their ancestors (which seems not to hold back refugees from genocides from living memory) and a system that doesn't "meet their needs". The latter because "the system" is "designed for Pakeha" (not because state provided services aren't necessarily very tailored to individual need).

It is post-modernist structuralist theory which posits that because Maori are (the descendants of) the indigenous people of a land that was colonised (and then gained independence), they are structurally disadvantaged.  With this thinking you can conveniently blank out individual cases that prove how flawed all of this is, like the young Maori woman I once met who got a government scholarship to pursue her law studies, a scholarship open only to Maori - she was proud, because her parents were lawyers.  Not exactly a scholarship that was lifting someone from a below average background.

The view perpetuated by the Greens, Labour, Mana/Internet/Opportunist, Maori Party and much of academia is that she is inherently disadvantaged because she is a Maori woman (doubly disadvantaged).

Forget that her family easily had an income several times that of the average household (so one can argue that her family long ago climbed out of disadvantage), that gets blanked out - the system structurally disadvantages her against a young man from a single parent household with no family history of tertiary education.  Her race was deemed to transmit disadvantage in a system that "creates" it.  The same quackery justifies all sorts of affirmative action programmes, which when government funded (I couldn't care less if private companies run them) are picking winners on the basis of race, out of a sense of "fairness", as if treating individuals differently on the basis of race somehow "redresses collective unfairness".  That is, of course, nonsense.  There is no collective brain or life, just individuals living their lives, and if the state decides that one individual on the basis purely of characteristics she can't choose, deserves privilege over another, then it is simply engaging in the unfairness it is purporting to address.

Unfortunately Jamie Whyte's rhetoric hid the real point, which was I think a major strategic error for those of us who want to move on from racial determinism and neo-Marxist structuralist interpretations of power, capitalism and society.  The mistake many have jumped on is misconstruing a detail around educational quotas (which is not where the debate should lie) and the pre-revolutionary France comparison (which was historically wrong), but I think his two biggest mistakes were:

- To not focus on how the current system privileges a few Maori over everyone else (including other Maori);
- To not sell the optimistic case for individual empowerment and diversity.

The "one law for all" argument fails because in most areas of the law this isn't an issue.  What he needed to sell is the case for a future whereby the government treats everyone on the basis of merit.  There is a case for reviewing laws that have a racial dimension, but that isn't the core issue.

That means tackling the state handing out taxpayers money to any groups, businesses, non-profit organisations, Iwi or whatever, as subsidies.  The state shouldn't be picking winners or be seen as a trough for anyone to put their snout into.  By demanding less state across the board, it should make it clear that funding for Maori agencies is not immune, and that Maori taxpayers shouldn't have their money going to those they wouldn't otherwise choose to fund.  Challenging rent-seekers across the board is much more difficult to criticise.  Given all of the parties of the left are proficient at suggesting new rent-seekers, their reactions would be curious.

I recall myself having been forced to go on a Treaty of Waitangi awareness course run by no other than Hekia Parata, to be told that Pakeha opposition to nepotism ignored the Maori "world view" that hiring your relatives (for taxpayer funded bodies) was just fine.  For you see for some powerful Maori, it is who you know that matters.  That is exactly the sort of anti-meritocratic view that should be challenged.

However, the overall agenda should be an optimistic one.  It means that yes, we all have property rights and they are to be protected and defended.  The remainder of Treaty claims are about redressing past property rights issues (some will argue it is more than that, and this is where debate can be led).  It means that the RMA should be scrapped, but that it is good practice and courtesy for those wishing to build large developments to consult with their neighbours, including Iwi where it borders their land.  It means that Parliament and local government should represent the widest range of views, but that is achieved by increasing voter turnout and people standing for election, not granting some special representation to Maori when Maori don't have unitar views on anything.

It should be a view that rejects the idea that one citizenship means the "melting pot" homogenisation of people as one, but that ACT embraces diversity.  Over 4 million lives, perspectives and variants on culture. For one's ancestry is but one dimension of being human.

I means taking on the patronising idea that failure is inherent to being Maori, because it isn't.  You do not carry trauma from your ancestors, although you may rightfully reflect on past events.  There are millions of people worldwide whose ancestors suffered unspeakable horrors, and they are building lives in spite of that.  That is the optimism ACT should be selling.  One that tells all Maori that they are not held back by their ancestors, nor should they by the state.  They own their lives and really are masters of their own destiny.

It does mean challenging the rhetoric that lifts many of these issues into collectivist group think.  Yes it means challenging the "frozen in time" notion that Maori today represent a separate nation that signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the "Pakeha" government.  The much-lauded "partnership" is a call by some interests to have a special parallel status with the state that entitles them to a greater say than anyone else, and of course a cut of taxpayers' money to do it.   No, the relationship between the Crown and Maori should be the same as with all citizens, in that citizens are free to live their own lives and have their property and freedoms protected by the Crown.  Tino rangitiratanga is personal sovereignty, it is freedom. Kawanatanga "governorship" is the state guaranteeing that freedom.

Maori are people who share a heritage (and many heritages) and are as diverse as they are in numbers, like everyone else.

Politically, such an agenda would have got some traction - taking on those who enrich themselves at taxpayers' expense is popular, but it would also have gained some broader support than the kneejerk vote that his speech was presumably designed to generate.  Strategically, it may also have gained Maori support, which is quite frankly, important if any of this is to get off the ground.

For when you look at political representation, it isn't the pro-violence racism of Hone Harawira (or indeed the Greens) that gets predominant Maori support, it is more moderate views.  It is about time that those of us who believe in individual freedom spoke to them more, and took on the venomous rhetoric thrown our way by the likes of Harawira, Sykes and their fellow rabble rousers.  Unfortunately, I think Jamie Whyte's speech. as well intentioned as it was, was poorly aimed, and a wasted opportunity.

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