221: Ideology And Policy, The Non-Ideological and The Morally Flexible

I believe global warming to be one of the most pressing threats to humanity (although I’m more concerned about possible sea-life extinction due to over-fishing, and the environmental degradation caused by intensive farming), I’m concerned about animal conservation, and I see value in natural beauty (although I’m not particularly ‘outdoors-y). But I also don’t have any fundamental opposition to deep-sea oil drilling, I hate the NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) attitude to wind farms and mining, I’m unconcerned with animal welfare, hate Greenpeace, think Sea-Shepherd are terrorists, I don’t like ‘hippies’, and am very pro-GE.

I’m a feminist. I despise the terms ‘masculinist’ and ‘equalist’, I think it’s absolutely undeniable that it’s much harder to be a woman living under the patriarchy, that women are vastly under-represented where it matters and that this should be redressed through quotas, and a society where women’s voices and perspectives are heard, and where women are in positions to implement these perspectives, would be a vastly better one. But I’m also pro-life, I think that gender and sex distinction, far from being fundamentally detrimental, are valuable and should be celebrated. I abhor attempts to rid us of gendered pronouns and language as an Orwellian effort in social engineering (and mistaken in the belief that ontology is a function of linguistics), I’m unconcerned with chivalry, and think that many modern feminists hold an ideology that is radically anti-diversity and anti-woman.

I am pro-gay adoption, for extending spousal privileges to same-sex and trans couples. I think single-mothers, young mothers and working mothers are heroic. I’m for the ‘anti-smacking’ act, I think that slut-shaming is abhorrent, that sex-workers should not face or fear legal penalty, and that we should have comprehensive sexual education. But I oppose gay-marriage, and support traditional family structures as valuable and important. I think that two-parent, with one parent working households are desirable, and should be encouraged. I’m disgusted by pornography, I’m worried about a hyper-sexualised and casually promiscuous culture, the loss of the concept of sexual morality, and I think that teaching five year-olds about contraception and masturbation is inappropriate.

I believe in a radical expansion of democracy. I abhor punitive attitudes to welfare. I think the corrections system should be solely focused on rehabilitation, and the Sensible Sentencing Trust sickens me. I don’t think we should lock people up for using drugs. I think we should abolish the GCSB, that we should fully nationalise, and run as public services; the news-media, banks, power companies, and the mineral extraction industry. I support open-borders. I think the Government needs to legislate to fundamentally change our legal and social structures to create the syncretic, bi-cultural society that the Treaty promises. I viscerally oppose the TPPA, and am very concerned about corporate power. But I think that ‘direct-democracy’, binding referenda are a have. I think people shouldn’t be released from prison until they are rehabilitated (no maximum sentences), that a national DNA database might not be a bad thing, that currently illicit drugs should remain illegal, and should be joined by ‘legal highs’ and tobacco. I think welfare dependency is hugely damaging. I’m opposed to large, central state power. I support the Shane Jones (and sometimes Winston’s when he’s not banging on about separatism) mentality that it’s up to us as Māori, and not the state to fix the problems caused by colonialism. I’m worried about the effect that increased immigration will have on the cause of Tino Rangatiratanga. I support small- business, and am in awe of the economically transformative power of international trade.

That’s quite a mishmash of positions to hold; I’m green, but not, feminist and, as I’m sure many would be tempted to say, chauvinist, a permissive liberal and a prudish conservative, a socialist, a radical, and a civil libertarian, and an authoritarian, a neo-liberal and a reactionary. All this might lead you to call me, what, pragmatic? Centrist? Non-ideological? An issues-by-issues kind of guy? Confused? But at -9.75 and -2.83, there’s no denying I’m left-wing, in-fact, very left-wing. That’s me right out on the left there, past MANA (I used to be -10.00, but I suppose I’ve grown more right-wing as I’ve aged).

Political Compass

I’m also deeply ideological, and have gone to great efforts to philosophically clarify and justify my political ideals. I’m not particularly confused or conflicted about what my foundational tenets are, what they result in, and what sort of society I see as ideal. I also see political labels as meaningful and useful and have no qualms about labelling myself (see my About Me section for those).

There’s been an increasing trend to see ideology as a dirty word. I’ve been guilty of using it as such (I’ve referred to the Tories’ partial privatisation regime as deeply ideological). There’s a sense of it just seeming too out of touch with our hyper-individualised society. Dogma and holding a coherent philosophy don’t seem to fit into a relativistic liberal society where nothing’s actually right or wrong intellectually (although they certainly can still be emotively), and so the biggest sin it seems in terms of holding an idea is being ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘out-of-date’. ‘Absolutist’, and ‘inflexible’ seem to be compulsorily negative, while ‘modern’ is unquestioningly positive. Miller writes that ideology has been “…superseded by the term ‘values’, which is seen to better reflect the changing mores and styles of contemporary society.” [Raymond Miller, How Parties Compete: Ideology And Policy in ‘Party Politics In New Zealand’, Oxford, 2005, p. 152]. Both Key and Cunliffe are quick to deny any significant attachment to ideology, and instead appeal to common-sense. This is borne, as Miller notes in his summation of Downs’ views, out of an appeal to the middle-classes. Peter Dunne did it with his common sense talk, Labour did it in the Clark years, and has stayed there with it’s housing and transport policies, and Key’s Mr. Middle New Zealand.

This non-ideological language though, is just that, language. It is political marketing that makes clever use of divisive identity politics, and dog-whistles to pitch themselves to the middle-classes who have always been put-off by unseemly ideology. In fact this common-sense anti-intellectual strand has always been a part of political movements based on appeals to the middle-class, with fascism being the most prominent example (more on that here). This is obfuscatory language that is intended to hide beliefs, to hide agendas, that we should be pushing parties to be open about. Just read the Hollow Men.

As was the case with fascism, just because the language is aimed at the middle, it doesn’t make those policies moderate. And what makes political moderation desirable in the first place? I don’t want my political leaders to be moderate about justice. I don’t want my political leaders to be moderate about human rights. I don’t want my political leaders to be moderate about the welfare of our society. To take a position is an act of extremism in itself, making self-declared moderation in political leaders the position of the snake-oil salesman. You can be sure once a leader starts bloviating about not being ideological, or common-sense (none other than reason based on ignorance) he is trying to hide something from you. Just because it quacks like a duck, it doesn’t mean it will walk like a duck, and it certainly doesn’t mean it is a duck.

221: Topic 13, Where’s The Humanity? The Filthy, Depraved Depths Of Humanity?

The way WordPress works is that every time I start a new post, it saves it for posterity, regardless of whether they’re ever finished, or published, or intelligible. They, at this moment, include a lamentation for the left from 1900, past the end of history, till today, a piece about the privatisation of democracy, with – in part thanks to MMP – parties increasingly becoming political firms competing for market share, and a wee sidetrack about just how gosh-darn thrilled I am that Wills and Kate and wee bonnie babe George have graced us colonials with the privilege of their presence.

These underdeveloped skeletons are now lying safely where skeletons should lie, in the closet, away from the light of day, never to meet the scrutinous eyes of others. I am, of course, happy for them to stay there, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I would be profusely embarrassed if they were ever to be made public, lest they expose the truly chaotic and disorganised state of my mind, which has the habit of performing an emergency evacuation of all my conflicting, malformed ideas as soon as it is given paper and a pen (or a keyboard and a screen) and told to write, inevitably producing an unassailable roadblock.

I would be equally mortified if anyone found the social studies essay I wrote in fourth-form that started with a quote from Hitler (mortified not because it was from Hitler – it was about the Third Reich – but because I started an essay with a quote – yuck!), or uncovered photos of the less than savoury things I have gone to dress-up parties as. I’m sure that any one of these things would be enough to cause future professional embarrassment and harm to any career I eventually manage to bluster into. One would think this possible career would certainly not include politics, if one did not want such skeletons to be dug up, as scandals and past embarrassments, no matter how big, or small, seem to be the main currency in which the political economy trades. It seems that the main task of politicians or political journalists is to catch MPs with their trousers around their ankles, their hands in the till, or with their signature on a painting.

Chris Trotter published an article on The Daily Blog a couple of weeks ago examining our gutter politics, and concluded that:

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

And this is surely correct. Our politics, our political reporting is indeed part of a wider culture. One that, yes, for sure has always existed wherever fishwives have had wont of gossip, but one that has seemed to become magnified and twisted with our electronic culture. A culture which seeks to see everyone humiliated and objectified, caught on camera phones – from the mundane voyeurism of the paparazzo, to the much more disturbing phenomenon of extreme pornographic and gore websites, where snuff, suicide, torture and serious injury videos are shared for can-you-hack-it entertainment, where videos of rape, sexual degradation, and sexual humiliation – revenge porn – are shared for a laugh.

This truly gut-wrenching mindset is leaching on to our TV sets too, where mainstream television shows like Tosh.0, Rude Tube, and Destroyed In Seconds, treat real-life videos of death, serious injury, and sexual objectification, with a mixture of morbid curiosity and out-and-out jocularity, played over laugh tracks. It’s a mindset that creates a psychopathic cognitive dissonance, an inability to  connect the depersonalised image of a subject, with the human person (worthy of human dignity) that they are seeing used and objectified effectively in the same room as them. It’s a mindset that creates a sentimental self-focuussed concern when images of suffering and death in Syria are overlaid with a sombre newscaster’s voice, but would surely provoke hilarity, ‘Facebook-sharing’ and ‘Snapchatting’  were they played over some Benny Hill music and some canned laughter. It’s something that has reared it’s ugly head earlier this week as a New Zealand Herald article reported that 30-odd people walked passed and saw a body floating in the Waitemata Harbour in a 30 minute period, with not one of them doing a thing about it. People apparently, walked by, took photos, took videos, laughed, and jogged up and down on the spot looking at this person’s body instead of trying to retrieve it, or calling for help, or calling the police. This is a culture that would see a camera phone shoved in the face of the drowning man instead of a helping hand.

It may seem difficult to see how this relates to political scandals, but it’s precisely this mindset that allows filth like Whaleoil (I refuse to use his human name) to operate. We’ve gone from having tabloids, to having a tabloid culture, a tabloid society. And of course that’s why the New Zealand Truth folded – because there was no need for it anymore. That odious, superficial mine of human muck has been outsourced, externalised to all of us. To anyone that has a camera phone. To anyone that has the internet. Snapchat, Instagram. More connected to, but further away from each other than ever.

It’s this tabloid culture, our tabloid society, the obsession with superficiality, dirty secrets, skeleton’d closets, and using these things to create a narrative to objectify the person that gives us a politics so superficial, so personalised, but at the same time so utterly dehumanised. Our politics is a reflection of what we want as a society. We, twisted inwards, towards the self, want depravity and scandal and superficiality, and so we get it. We get a politics focussed towards superficial personal scandal, depravity used to stir the mob. We get politicians whose goal is no-longer about social change, or social good, but is reflective of the selfish society. Self-serving, reductionist, about power and narrative. In focussing on mud they are focussing on their own interest, and not on society’s.

What’s the real scandal, 285,000 children living in poverty, or Len Brown cheating on his wife? What’s the real scandal, that 15,000-20,000 children are killed every year in this country because (mostly) they have been made economic impossibilities, or that Shane Jones bought some hotel porn? What’s the real scandal, that the Kōhanga Reo Trust (sleazily) misused a few thousand dollars of taxpayer funds, or that Allan Hubbard defrauded ordinary New Zealanders of $2 billion and the Government paid for it? What’s the real scandal, that Peter Dunne might have had the hots for a journalist, or that the Government illegally spied of 80 New Zealanders? What’s the real scandal? That not everyone are saints, or that we have a politics and a news media that systematically obfuscates social decay for their own personal gain?

Why don’t you report on that Paddy?