Month: September 2013

End of Life Choice Bill withdrawn

Maryan Street has withdrawn her – End of Life Choice Bill from the ballot box. (H/t Mark Hubbard, blogger at Life behind the IRon Drape)

The Bill proposed to legalise voluntary euthanasia for people with terminal illness likely to cause death within 12 months, or to people with an irreversible physical or mental condition that renders their life unbearable – by their own assessment.

Street reasons that if the bill is drawn during an election year, that it risks not being given proper consideration, but she denies the withdrawal was a result of internal pressure from the Labour Party.

However, its reported that the Labour Party are divided over the euthanasia issue, and it seems rather convenient that when the Party is under pressure to unify that a dividing issue is expunged – perhaps to avoid any perception of disunity.

Euthanasia is a very difficult topic because of the risk of abuse and issues around competency and consent. Some argue that we already practice involuntary euthanasia when turning off life support machines.

I think Street is mistaken to presume that election year is a bad time for the euthanasia discussion, because, the public seem most attuned to politics in election year and are more likely (in my view) to participate in the discussion.

Street was promoting this bill up until as recently as August, so I’m not convinced that she didn’t cave to some internal pressure in withdrawing her bill.

If removing private members bills that might be internally controversial  is part of Labour’s strategy for unifying the party, then they risk annihilating the  democratic reforms the party has already undergone.

Roman Candle Politics All Round

We (on the Left) often talk about  how badly we need a change of government (which we do) and as long as we can get rid of John Key and his crony sidekicks, then NZ will be all the better for it. As much as I dislike how the National Party has governed NZ, I don’t see a simple change to the Labour Party as a remedy. In fact, I can understand why, as John Armstrong points out that  ‘National likens [David Cunliffe] to the political equivalent of a Roman candle which, after shooting a series of spectacular balls of fire into the air, will fizzle out‘. Although, I’d go further and say that the analogy applies across the board to all parties.

After watching The Four Horsemen documentary (for the second time), I agree with the underlying premise that because the problems we face are systemic, the sense of hopelessness we feel is not resolved by simply replacing one part of the system with a different part of the same system instead we must change the system (Note: I have probably oversimplified the argument, so I highly recommend watching this extremely insightful documentary).

The Labour Party have talked about their intentions to effect great change delivering prosperity and a fairer distribution of wealth. Yet, the policies offered do very little to counter the prevailing debt and environmental crisis facing not just NZ but the global community.

In response to David Cunliffe’s live streamed interview on The Daily Blog, Deirdre Kent (New Economics Party) writes that Labour policy will not create jobs because ‘expensive social welfare programmes, a complicated and burdensome tax regime with a very regressive GST and a money system which perpetuates the status quo will see to that’.

While the Green Party may act as a balance on Labour policy and will most certainly encourage an emphasis on sustainability, the fact that neither party is willing to reform our tax system shows that the change needed will not be born under a Labour/Green government. That being said, it’s even less likely to occur under a National/Act government since the necessary reforms affect the wealthy business owners and financial elites that constitute a large proportion of the National/Act voting base.

Note, I do not believe that increasing taxes at the top threshold or that introducing new taxes while retaining current taxes is reform. Any attempts to woo the public with either ‘taxing the rich pricks’ (standard Left proposition) or ‘reducing taxes for all’ (standard Right proposition) are relics of the roman candle variety – spoken to inspire with very little effect on the real issues.

Unless we start discussing the real problems: tax, money, resources and democracy and advocating for the changes necessary, not just the changes that wont cause much fuss, we can’t really expect much to change for the many in NZ following the 2014 election, irrespective of who wins.

That cartoon

Yesterday NZ celebrated 120 years of Women’s Suffrage. But not without controversy.

Bryce Edwards tweeted the cartoon below, which appeared in the Timaru Herald:

ja

Like many, I was appalled at the inclusion of this particular cartoon on a day celebrating women winning a right that had been preserved for men only.

I interpreted the cartoon as intentionally objectifying Jacinda Ardern in an attempt to denigrate the role of women in politics in general, given the context of the particular day.

Perhaps, I should have taken my own advice from my previous post on ‘Too PC or not PC’.  My point is, there is actually another possible interpretation.

Cameron Slater suggests that  ‘…Evans has encapsulated Labour’s own misogynist behaviour in trotting our Jacinda as a piece of arm or eye candy…’

I can appreciate this suggestion because despite Cunliffe’s own endorsement of increasing females in caucus and the level of female support he enjoyed during his campaign for leadership,  the cartoon could be interpreted as alluding to the hypocrisy in Cunliffe not nominating a female as the Deputy Leader when the opportunity presented itself.

Should the cartoonist have depicted Ardern as a bikini clad Ring Girl? Probably not. I personally think it was inappropriate, but I wondered if he could have conveyed his message with the same impact. What I believe went wrong, was that  if the intention was to encapsulate Labour’s own misogyny, in using misogynistic imagery he crossed an ethical boundary and made himself susceptible to the criticism that prevailed.

Note, I question the sincerity of the suggestion given the context of the day and that while he might have been highlighting his view of Labour’s own misogyny, there is no indication (that I am aware of) that he doesn’t subscribe to the perceived message of his joke – i.e. that women have no legitimate role in politics.

EDIT (in light of Cameron Slater’s comment below, I hadn’t made it clear that I was referring to Evans in the paragraph above, and for that I apologise for the misleading statement I made)

Note: I question whether it was Malcolm Evans’ intention to simply highlight his view of Labour’s own misogyny, as there is no indication (that I am aware of) that Evans doesn’t subscribe to the perceived message of his joke, i.e. that women have no legitimate role in politics. Although, I would happily eat my words if there is evidence to the contrary. 

Too PC or not PC

When I retweeted the video below, I did so without comment. Why? Because I was nervous about how I could be attacked by the humour ethicists or the attitude endorsement theorists for finding amusement in this excellent display of word wit.

Too often I hear that NZ is too PC or alternatively that some jokes are just never funny. So I began thinking about why one persons joke, statement, cartoon was funny, but another was not.  The reason this bothers me, is the implication that if I found something immoral to be funny, then I was implicitly accepting the immoral sentiment expressed in the joke. This led me to consider if I were an advocate for equality (which I believe I am), could I also enjoy a joke in which the content expressly defied that value.

I found a sweet little podcast on the Philosophy Bites website interviewing Noel Carroll called Humour and Morality.  Have a listen.

In short, Carroll discusses the two main arguments on this topic, namely, Amoralism and Ethicism. His view is that what makes a joke funny is somewhere in between these two positions.

The Amoralists essentially argue that humour is separate from morality and jokes have no moral content of their own. In other words, ‘applying ethical reasoning to humor is a category mistake (something akin to asking about the typical smell of triangles)’.

The fact is that some jokes ‘do appear to cross an ethical line that ought to (and often does) make people uncomfortable’.

Carroll points to an example of how racial jokes can cross an ethical boundary. For instance, in NZ when Māori make jokes about stereotypes of themselves, this self-deprecating humour is (generally) acceptable because such jokes are delivered with good natured intention and to build camaraderie. Intention is the key, and this is highlighted by feminists too when using words such as ‘Bitch’.

However, if a privileged group were to make jokes about a disadvantaged group, then this is probably morally inappropriate. Often such jokes invite the hearer of the joke to find some comic pleasure in the stereotyping of a disadvantaged group that the hearer and the joke teller do not belong to.

And in fact as Julie Fairey points out in her latest post – you’re probably likely to be asked to check your privilege.

Additionally, Nathan Goodman (writer at C4SS) suggests that the epistemological limits of what we can know will impact on our ability to understand the effects and consequences of our actions on marginalised groups. For the purpose of this post, jokes can have different impacts on different persons within a disadvantaged group  so ‘calls for people to check their privilege are not an attempt to silence. Rather, they are an attempt to get people to recognize the limits of their knowledge’. In other words, we don’t know all the experiences of the person marginalized so privilege checking is an act of humility and not censorship.

The ethicist, considers that morality plays a determinative role in whether or not a joke is funny and that some jokes will never be funny, i.e. if a joke exceeds what is morally appropriate. This point has been made above and there will be instances where morality and humour conflict. However, Carroll points out that the ethicist position is not infallible because it implies that more moral content will make the joke more funny which is not necessarily true.

Carroll highlights that some morally objectionable jokes are still funny, for instance, black humour. He uses an example about a baby roast.  He states that just because we laugh at such jokes, it doesn’t mean that we endorse the content of the joke. Often, we are laughing for how our more puritanical friends might respond upon hearing such objectionable material.

Humour Ethicists and proponents of attitude-endorsement theory assumes that a  joke has only one meaning. And yes, some people will find an immoral joke amusing because they do subscribe to the immoral content, but the point is that we can find amusement in jokes even if we do not subscribe to the content.

Massimo Pigliucci argues that ‘we can entertain possibilities in which we do not actually believe: I can laugh at a joke about Santa Claus without this somehow implying that I believe in Santa Claus. Similarly, one could laugh at a racist / misogynist joke without being racist / misogynist’.

Comic immoralism is also another position that is contrary to the view of the ethicist. For instance, we might laugh at jokes precisely because they are immoral without believing the content to be ethically acceptable.

Context is probably everything and our moral imagination probably can stop or block a joke from being funny,

Dr Brian Edwards wrote a post on how there are double standards when it comes to racist jokes about Māori. He thinks that Māori jokes should be as publicly broadcast as Irish jokes. Here is what he says:

“I’m Irish and that’s fine by me. I like Irish jokes.

There are a lot of jokes about Māori and they say a lot of different things – that Māori are stupid, lazy, unemployed and often in trouble with the law. (The Irish cop all of that as well.) You hear Māori jokes everywhere.

Hold on a minute! No, you don’t! You don’t hear Māori jokes on the radio, or see them on TV, or read them in the papers. Publishing or broadcasting a joke that suggested Māori were stupid, would get you in trouble with the Press Council or the Broadcasting Standards Authority or the Race Relations Office.

There’s a double standard here. It’s OK to make racial jokes in public about the Irish. But it isn’t OK to make racial jokes in public about Maori”

I’m wondering if Brian Edwards has seen the kinds of racist jokes made about Māori – see http://funnyracists.blogspot.co.nz/2011/03/racist-maori-jokes.html (actually, I don’t recommend you click the link, but this is the kind of racism Māori deal with regularly).

My point is that NZ was colonised by British, Scottish and Irish settlers. Camaraderie developed between the settler groups and humour probably played some part in this, with the resulting division between Settlers versus  Māori. In my view, this is probably why we see a prevalence of English, Irish, Scots jokes. In addition, these groups make up the dominant group in NZ. Of course, the Irish and Scots were not privileged groups in the societies from where they came since both suffered under British imperialism. But for Brian Edwards to presume that racist Māori jokes are okay suggests to me that he needs to check his privilege.

We all use humour for a various reasons and on various occassions. In my view, it’s not PC gone mad when an individual is criticised for making stereotypical jokes about disadvantaged groups especially if they do not identify with that group but it is PC gone mad if everyone who laughs at morally objectionable material are tainted with the label that the joke offends. Humour is tricky and some morally sensitive persons will always complain. The point is to check the intention of the joke and check your privilege.

The potential for Maori leadership should not be understated

Its time for me to eat my words (a little!) because if I’m going to remain transparent to my readership, then I must remain honest at all times.

In the past few months, I’ve written about my disdain for the state, for the constitution and for Westminster politics. I’ve criticised the superficial role that Maori are given in that system and have advocated for a society where power is decentralised and direct democracy is at the forefront of the decision making process.

I remain steadfast in my views but I appreciate that in the meantime we must act to pursue that ideology. So for practicality, it might be necessary to engage in Westminster politics to undo what has been done.

I realised after various discussions that we in NZ are (predominantly) loathe to take direct action in the form of protest or revolution and instead, tend to criticise from the sidelines. I am guilty of this. I’m also skeptical of the ability to revolutionise peacefully, or am yet to see or understand how a peaceful revolution is managed.

The reason I’ve given this explanation is so that you understand why I think that Shane Jones running for Leader of the Labour Party is a positive in practical terms and that the insistent hating overshadows a potentially major historical moment in NZ.

So getting to the point: My view is that the potential for Maori leadership in NZ should not be understated.

shane-jones

I am incredibly proud of the prospect of potentially having a Maori Prime Minister. I understand that Labours chances of winning the next election are not guaranteed and that Shane Jones’ chances of acquiring the leadership role are very small.

But despite his imperfections or his obscene sexism, Shane Jones has done what I initially thought he could not  – enchant the public.  Perhaps a bold claim, but I am seeing from various social media accounts and mainstream media reports that his popularity is growing despite his flaws, of which the feminist guard in NZ are very vocal about.

I took some time to decide if my sympathy for Jones was me just being contrarian because of the hating I was witnessing (on Twitter especially). However, I have reasoned that my pride does not come from a place where I have unscrupulously glorified Jones; rather I am proud that we in NZ are in a position where the potential (no matter how large or small the likelihood) for an elected Maori PM is actually possible. But sadly, the scale of this moment is overshadowed by the heavy criticism of Jones from both Maori and non-Maori alike.

I do not sympathise with Jones’ sexism but I do admire his pursuit for improving Maori outcomes (despite being very far apart ideologically). However, I am dubious as to whether a Labour led government would work toward this goal given their record with Maori rights, most notably, Foreshore and Seabed and Operation 8.

But, I am a bit smitten with the idea of having a PM who has actually felt the effects of being Maori in NZ and who can speak meaningfully to both Maori and non-Maori audiences.

In comparison to other countries who have or had minority (South Africa/USA) or indigenous (Bolivia) Prime Ministers/Presidents, we are trailing. Notwithstanding that we have a Treaty that should have served as an instrument that lead the world in this regard.

I’m also proud that if Jones did become the leader of the Labour Party, the majority of the parties in the house would have Maori at the helm (5:3). Unprecedented. Only perhaps to be improved by having a Maori Speaker.

To clarify, I have no stake in the Labour Leadership. I am not a member of the Labour Party (although I have given them my vote in the past) and I do not agree with a large proportion of Labour’s policies. So I am not making a judgment about who would be best to lead the ‘Labour Party’, rather I am making a statement about how the potential for Maori leadership, in particular, at the PM level, provides an unprecedented opportunity to take our race relations in NZ forward and that this should not be understated.

Syria conflict – what can NZ do?

We learned yesterday, that President Obama is deciding whether to ‘intervene’ in the conflict in Syria. He is expected to take the issue to Congress and has positioned US military personnel ready for strike at any time.[1] In fact, Israel have also deployed their Iron Dome for an imminent attack. [2]

I’ve written on Syria in the past, and back then I was as confused as I am today.[3] The conflicting accounts of what is happening on the ground is still up in the air (figuratively speaking).

We have independent media telling us that the violence is perpetrated by Jabat Al Nusra (Al Qaeda affiliate) who have infiltrated the FSA. On the other hand, the corporate media reporting that Bashar Al Assad and the Syrian Arab Army are detonating chemical weapons at large against their own people.

There are reports that the chemical weapons were supplied by Saudi Arabia and were accidentally detonated by FSA during transportation as they did not know how to handle the weapons properly.[4] And other accounts, suggesting that the weapons were purposefully detonated from strategic government locations by the ‘brutal and irrational’ dictator despite the UN investigations team being in the region at the time.[5]

Syrians are blogging, such as  Darth Nader who writes:[6]

The Syrian revolution is a revolution that began as a struggle for self-determination. The Syrian people demanded to determine their own destiny. And, for more than two years, against all odds, and in the face of massive repression and destruction from the Assad regime, they persevered.

In the course of the revolutionary process, many other actors have also appeared on the scene to work against the struggle for self-determination. Iran and its militias, with the backing of Russia, came to the aid of the regime, to ensure the Syrian people would not be given this right. The jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and others, under the guise of “fighting the Assad regime,” worked against this right as well. And I feel the same way about any Western intervention.

Others suggesting that arguments claiming that the US are fighting on the same side as Al Qaeda in resisting Assad, are disingenuous since if we abhor drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia – we’re also on the same side as Al Qaeda.[7]

Jason Hirthler on Counterpunch provides an outline for how President Obama’s decision will play out, I reproduce it here for your convenience:[8]

The model calls for Obama to undertake a series of anti-democratic and pro-war actions that will be reformulated as pro-democratic and anti-war:

First, he’ll ignore the people that elected him. He’ll cite some moral platitude from a posture of deep anxiety—the man of peace forced to confront the need for noble violence. His wrinkled brow will slowly morph into the steely eyed gaze of determination—the defender of liberty come to rescue the hapless Syrian proles. He’ll wave a flag of universal human rights, declare that actions have consequences, and point a heavy finger at Bashar al-Assad. Just nine percent of the American population want this. But Obama will be too transfixed by his moral crusade to take notice.

Next, he’ll ignore Congress. This is the formal equivalent of ignoring the people. But unlike laughing off a Reuters poll, disregarding the entire legislative branch of government will require some nuanced prose from the Department of Justice (DOJ). No problem. For the Libyan war, the DOJ asserted that the provision of guns, drone strikes, missile launchers, and other weaponry didn’t collectively amount to “hostilities.” Hence there was no war. Hence no need to bother with Congressional approvals.

 Feeling more confident by the day, Obama will then ignore the United Nations. He and deputy John Kerry have already said it is too late for U.N. weapons inspectors in Damascus to investigate the new claim of chemical weapons abuse. They offered a smattering of nonsense about “corrupted” evidence, despite the fact that sarin can sit in the soil for months. In any case, the U.N. could normally be relied upon to roll over in the General Assembly and Security Council on war authorization, but for the annoying presence of Russia, finger poised above the veto button, awaiting for the Obama administration to ask the Security Council legitimate its belligerence. Russia, of course, is itself hiding behind a façade of shocked innocence, saying it was fooled by America on Iraq in 2003 and won’t be fooled again. This, too, is sophistry.

Then he’ll bomb. Missiles will be fired from the safety of the Mediterranean or the comparative calm of high clouds. The missiles will target heavily populated areas in Damascus, much to our great leader’s great regret. Images of wailing Muslims will dot the airwaves. NGOs will assemble lists of the collateral dead. The refugee count—already at one million—will climb toward two. And Syria, part of the cradle of civilization, will begin to resemble Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya in its kaleidoscopic mix of blasted infrastructures, sectarian slaughter, rampant abuse of women, genetic deformities in the birth population, and the steady buzz of Predators and Reapers policing the carnage from the sky.

The US have reportedly obtained intelligence that proves that it is Assad’s forces who’ve been using the chemical weapons based on the location of the deployment of these weapons. The US have decided that despite a UN investigation in Syria to ascertain the truth, that it is unnecessary because they have the evidence they deem necessary to ‘punish’ Assad and his army. Notwithstanding, that the real victims will be the Syrian people themselves.[9]

While nobel peace prize laureate Mairead Macguire insists that 70% of the Syrian people support Assad because they’d rather resolve the conflict through peaceful non-violent means and a democratic election and not through a violent and bloody revolution.[10] She also indicates that there are non-violent peace groups working towards this end.

From her interview, its clear that while many Syrians may support the regime, that support is not directly related to support for Assad, rather support for the peaceful process of elections.

What can we take from all this information?

We need to ask is there any moral justification for interfering in the Syrian conflict?

In my view, the answer is no. A bombardment by the US and its allies as a punitive measure against Assad will not fix the issues in Syria, and it is illogical to claim that we must intervene for the protection of innocent’s when their safety cannot be guaranteed by such intervention.

I am also baffled as to why intervention is apparently only justified when chemical weapons appear. The effects of chemical weapons are atrocious, and I am not defending their use – by whoever used them, my point is that whether the weapon is chemical or not, weapons are used to destroy human lives.

I note the hypocrisy in the US using incendiaries such as white phosphorous in Iraq [11] and its endless support for the Israeli Army who used such weapons against the people of Gaza.[12]

The conflict in Syria began as an internal revolution. The issue has become highly complex due to the infiltration by counter revolutionaries. 

Many argue that this is a proxy war,[13]and on the information available and the history of US intervention, this lends a great deal of support to that argument. Surely, we would do better to work with the people of Syria to help resolve their issues through the provision of aid, asylum and resources to assist with their plight for self-determination?

Our governments appear steadfast on bombing and sending in military stealth to save the people of Syria, when in fact, they will kill many and displace many more in the process.

The Middle East is under immense pressure to house, feed and keep safe from conflict and violence millions of refugees from Syria and also other troubled countries such as Palestine, Iraq, Libya and Egypt.

I feel like the least countries like ours could do is open up asylum (beyond our current ‘quotas’) and/or aid to those refugees and work with them to help fulfil their needs. Surely, we could find it our hearts and minds, to offer a safe place to take refuge and assist them to return to their homes (if they wanted to) and when they decided it was safe for them to do so.

Because in my view, our protectionist attitudes in limiting the number of refugees and asylum seekers we will accept into ‘our borders’ and not offering the relevant or adequate assistance to such persons is a hideous admission of our lack of compassion and humanity for the horrific and adverse circumstances of others.

I understand, that assistance through helping Syrian’s overcome their struggle from abroad may not be the best answer – especially in the struggle for self-determination, but its surely more humane than letting refugees starve or live in substandard conditions in camps while their homes and their livelihoods are destroyed. 


[2] Bloomberg Netanyahu says Israel prepared as Obama Syria stance criticised: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-01/netanyahu-says-israel-prepared-as-obama-syria-stance-criticized.html

[4] Alan Jones Channel Obama in panic mode after FSA chemical attack admission: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=mZZFOq0C3ng

[5] 21st Century Wire ‘Chemical Weapons’ media propaganda in US, UK is designed to hide the truth in Syria: http://21stcenturywire.com/2013/08/22/chemical-weapons-media-propaganda-in-us-uk-is-designed-to-hide-the-truth-in-syria/

[6] Darth Nader On Interventions and the Syrian Revolution: http://darthnader.net/2013/08/27/on-interventions-and-the-syrian-revolution/

[7] The Human Province An open letter on Syria to Western narcissists: http://humanprovince.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/an-open-letter-on-syria-to-western-narcissists/

[8] Jason Hirthler The Banality of Empire on Counterpunch: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/30/the-banality-of-empire/

[9] See above n 1.

[10]21st century Wire Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire Reveals Truth About Syria

 http://21stcenturywire.com/2013/07/10/nobel-peace-laureate-mairead-maguire-reveals-truth-about-syria/

[11] Pentagon justifying incendiary arms use  in New York Times (2005) http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/17/international/17phos.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[12]Israel accused of indiscriminate phosphorus use in Gaza in The Guardian (2009) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/mar/25/israel-white-phosphorus-gaza

[13] For a definition see Proxy war on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxy_war