Monday, 23 January 2023

"It is sometimes forgotten that New Zealand is a securely post-Enlightenment society..."

"It is sometimes forgotten that New Zealand, as a neo-European society, is a securely post-Enlightenment society... a very particular example of post-Enlightenment experimental practice…. The thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment … [argued] that men were governed by interest if not reason and that those interests could be orchestrated for beneficent purposes….
    “[W] e still live in a world first codified then, a world seen as 'a unified and self-sufficient Nature, governed by orderly laws, and including man within itself as part of Nature'….
    “Such a view underwrote 'the autonomy and sovereignty of knowledge'…. Thereafter the world was to be located and constituted through knowledge….
    “By the last quarter of the nineteenth century economic and moral progress would be widely considered fruits of knowledge. The myth of the Garden of Eden, where knowledge brings the Fall, had been stood on its head.”
~ Erik Olssen, from his article 'Mr Wakefield and New Zealand as an Experiment in Post-Enlightenment Experimental Practice' [NZJH (Vol. 31, No. 2, October 1997), pp 198-200]

Thursday, 19 January 2023

"I begin with my conclusion: The 'public' school system is the most immoral and corrupt institution [in NZ] today, and it should be abolished."

"I begin with my conclusion: The 'public' school system is the most immoral and corrupt institution [in NZ] today, and it should be abolished. It should be abolished for the same reason that chattel slavery was ended in the 19th century: Although different in purpose and in magnitude of harm to its victims, public education, like slavery, is a form of involuntary servitude. The primary difference is that public schools force children to serve the interests of the state rather than those of an individual master.
    "These are—to be sure—radical claims, but they are true, and the abolition of public schools is an idea whose time has come. It is time for [all of us] to reexamine—radically and comprehensively—the nature and purpose of their disastrously failing public school system, and to launch a new abolitionist movement, a movement to liberate [more than three-quarters-of-a-million] children and their parents from this form of bondage.1"

~ C Bradley Thompson, from his post 'The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of Our Time'
Note 1. On the nineteenth-century antislavery abolitionists, see C. Bradley Thompson, ed., Antislavery Political Writings, 1833-1860: A Reader (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, Inc., 2003)

[Hat tip Louise Lamontagne. Contextualised to NZ.] 


Friday, 13 January 2023

"New Zealand was born free without having to become so"


 "Self-government and the rule of law came to New Zealand from above. These great principles were ordained by imperial authority. The result, to paraphrase Tocqueville, was that New Zealand was born free without having to become so. It never had to fight for self-government, or win its rights by armed struggle."

~ David Hackett Fisher, from his book Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies: New Zealand and the United States

Monday, 22 February 2021

Western Civilisation ...

"Values aren’t a birthright: you need to keep caring about them. Living in the West, however you define it, being Western, provides no guarantee that you will care about Western civilisation. The values European humanists like to espouse belong just as easily to an African or an Asian who takes them up with enthusiasm as to a European. By that very logic, of course, they do not belong to a European who has not taken the trouble to understand and absorb them. The same, of course, is true in the other direction. The story of the golden nugget suggests that we cannot help caring about the traditions of 'the West' because they are ours: In fact, the opposite is true. They are only ours if we care about them. A culture of liberty, tolerance, and rational inquiry: that would be a good idea. But these values represent choices to make, not tracks laid down by a Western destiny."
~ British-Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah from his 2016 Reith Lecture 'There Is No Such Thing As Western Civilisation'

[Hat tip Robert Tracinski]

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

"Histories" without respect for history


Last week Labour's Minister of Education announced the compulsory "histories" that young New Zealanders will now be taught in government schools. 

Oddly enough, says historian Michael Bassett, the "histories" curriculum (for that is what it is) displays the authors' ignorance of some basic historical facts.

For example, far from rushing to add New Zealand to the British Empire, Britain was extremely cautious before dispatching William Hobson; the Colonial Office was seriously worried that the Musket Wars between Maori had reached the stage where nothing short of military intervention would protect Maori.

This is combined with an emphasis on three "big ideas" that don't so much summarise local history as sanitise it:

Translated, the first ["big idea"] is that Maori history is fundamental to understanding everything about New Zealand. 

Nothing, in other words, about the ideas and technology brought here by later settlers that we all now enjoy. 

The second one, translated, is that the consequences of unstated, but implied, wicked colonisation continue 'to influence all aspects' of our history. 

As if New Zealand's first and second settlements are the only "histories" to tell about this place, and grievance over the latter the only mode of recounting them.

The third is that colonists’ power exerted over the years has invariably inflicted damage, injustice and conflict on Maori. Nothing about economic development which lifted New Zealand after the Treaty from a state of anarchy ... The development of the modern economy is [also] of no account in the Ministry these days where no one seems to give a thought to where their salaries come from. 

This is the historic equivalent of a cost-benefit analysis that refuses to even acknowledge any benefit.

And, as I predicted, there’ll be no mention of the Musket Wars in the new curriculum. The government is intent on sanitising our history, presumably in the hope that henceforth we’ll all 'be kind.' ... 
    Unless someone has the intestinal fortitude to challenge this new proposed curriculum, history is a doomed subject. Certainly there is nothing in it to enthuse today’s students who prefer action, learning about the wider world, new ideas, wars and international affairs. 

You know, like explaining all those things that give the context to the history of this small island nation.

Bassett heaps blame for the mess:

Superficially, we can blame those ... devising this mumbo-jumbo curriculum, but I think the rot goes far deeper. This report follows on from those recent ones about falling literacy and numeracy in our schools...
    There is a pattern here. Educationally, New Zealand has lost its way.... Coming on top of the alarming reports about our educational performance overall, what is proposed is just another piece of evidence that substantial segments of the country’s bureaucracy, and the ministers who control it, aren’t fit for purpose.

This may be the most relevant local history that the next generation of students will need to learn: the gradual decay of learning in this place.

NB: A former minister himself (though not of education) Bassett studied history at the University of Auckland back when History was the University's third-largest department. He has three degrees in history, was a senior lecturer in history and a member of the Waitangi Tribunal. He has published 13 history books and authored four biographies for the Dictionary of NZ Biography.

[Hat tip Point of Order, from whence comes the short Bassett bio.]


Monday, 26 October 2020

"This is the first fact to remember about New Zealanders..."


"For New Zealand is a good country. It has the feeling of being a very old country, though not at all in the European sense where countries are old with the marks of humanity...
    "New Zealand is very old, much older than any of this, and quite untouched by men. Its rocks and mountains are worn smooth by south Pacific winds. They are very cold to touch and very clean. The country, with its sharp hills, gives you the same feeling as the clear salt of the sea. The country is, in fact, so old in itself that none of us have dared to touch it; we have only just begun to live there. The Maoris who came before us moved among the dark heavy trees like ghosts and could have sailed away at any time and never left a mark. We could leave it ourselves now: in a few years the red-roofed wooden bungalows would rot with borer and crumble into the earth. Fern would cover the grassland and, after fern, small trees would come and in time the dark, rich, matted bush again. Other men might come in a hundred years and nothing that we had left would worry them, but they could draw strength as we have done from the sharp, fierce lines of the hills and the streams always running and the wide sea on every side. 
    "This has been another cause of conflict to New Zealanders, that there have never been enough of them nor have they had sufficient confidence in themselves to take over the country, so that they live there like strangers or as men might in a dream which will one day wake and destroy them. 
    "There is nothing soft about New Zealand, the country. It is very hard and sinewy, and will outlast many of those who try to alter it. 
    "This is one reason why New Zealanders, a young people but already with a place in history, are often wanderers and restless and unhappy men. They come from the most beautiful country in the world, but it is a small country and very remote. After a while this isolation oppresses them and they go abroad. They roam the world looking not for adventure but for satisfaction. They run service cars in Iraq, or2 goldmines in Nevada, or newspapers in Fleet St. They are a queer, lost, eccentric, pervading people who will seldom admit to the deep desire that is in all of them to go home and live quietly in New Zealand again.
    "Those who do not go abroad and do not travel are afflicted with the same sad restlessness. They are all the time wanting to set out across the wide seas that surround them in order to find the rest of the world... New Zealanders are all the time standing on the edge of these seas. They spend their lives wanting to set out across the wide oceans that surround them in order to find the rest of the world. 
    "One way and another, those who are going and those who are staying have all the time within them this sad inner conflict and frustration. This is the first fact to remember about New Zealanders, who live in the most beautiful country of the world."

          ~ John Mulgan, from his 1947 Report on Experience 


Wednesday, 14 October 2020

“In his dealings with authority … the New Zealander knows only two manoeuvres—flat disregard when unseen, and passive compliance otherwise."

"O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us!"
~ Robbie Burns [1]

Some thoughts on New Zealanders, from a few outsiders:

... on the New Zealander’s attitude to authority, from an English psychiatrist  working in NZ in 1957:
“In his dealings with authority … the New Zealander knows only two manoeuvres—flat disregard when unseen, and passive compliance otherwise. Typically, he seldom questions authority, and he never opposes it head on, but if its back be turned, he follows his own inclinations.” [2]
... on the New Zealander’s anti-intellectualism, or “what [a French observer, Andre Siegfried [3]] called the lack of ‘principles, convictions, reasoned beliefs’" (summarised by a Canadian political scientist, in 1969):
Adapting Siegfried, one might say that New Zealand was ‘doubly pragmatic.’ On the continent of Europe, the British have acquired the reputation of being pragmatic; this trait has been intensified among the (largely British) New Zealanders by the original need to develop the land, leaving little time for intellectual pursuits, by the country’s smallness and remoteness, and by the prejudice and theorising associated with insistence on equality.”[4]
... and on that insistence on egalitarianism, or equality (that same Canadian summarising an American writer in 1948 [5]): 
“[T]here is widespread agreement that an outstanding feature of New Zealand life is its tendency toward equality … not to say that class distinctions are completely absent in New Zealand  But it seems evident that, although they exist, they are not nearly so rigidly defined as in Britain. Extremes of wealth are less than in Britain, and there are smaller differentials between the wages of the skilled and unskilled. 
There is certainly resentment against inherited status, privileges, or wealth. As in Australia, there are no institutions corresponding closely to Oxford and Cambridge, the public schools, the City, the armed forces, the landed aristocracy, the established Church, or the Foreign Office in Britain. In other words, there is no equivalent of the ‘Establishment.’ 
Hatred of inequality in New Zealand [or what we might simply call envy] extends further than this: it is also directed against inequality resulting from superior achievement, on the ground, perhaps, that to strive after achievement shows a lack of dedication to equality. 
However, mere inequality of circumstance, provided that it is patently accidental, would probably not be resented. The winner of a lottery would not come under attack, although he had become much more wealthy than his neighbours. The explanation, presumably, is that plainly the win has not resulted either from special privileges (such as inheritance) or from special achievement (arising from a desire to be superior). 
[Commentators] have pointed to the ways in which this love for equality, piled own top of New Zealand s smallness and isolation, has tended to blight culture, original thinking, and research. Gradham Wallas, in making a comparison with Norway, thought that New Zealand ‘may still have to learn that the Extreme as a personal ideal for those who are called by it is a necessary complement of the Mean in public policy.' [6] And it has often been remarked that the concept of equality, which benefits from being loosely equated with 'democracy,’ has often been pursued at the expense of liberty." [7]
Jock Phillips compares this with Australia. As a friend notes, Phillips's book describes a similar pioneering pragmatism encouraged by both Australian and New Zealand history, and a related disdain for authority. 
But Phillips notes that in Australia you still had the culture being recorded in literature - in the works of Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, etc. But in New Zealand there are far fewer examples of this. My theory is that's because in New Zealand there was more of a quest for middle-class respectability. The Anglicans founded Christchurch, and the Presbyterians founded Dunedin for instance (at the time the biggest New Zealand city). This quest for taming the wild pioneer man and respectability hit a peak in the late nineteenth century, with for instance the temperance movement. There was a similar culture in both nations in the back blocks, but in New Zealand this tended to drive the rough pioneer culture underground, whereas in Australia it had a more natural and open expression. If that's correct, I think you can also connect that to the New Zealanderer's tendency to accept authority more so than the Australian.
My friend argues too that the comparison with Norway is interesting:
Having read a lot about the Norwegian explorers Nansen and Amundsen (late-nineteenth, early twentieth century), I think [I have] a reasonable understanding of Norwegian culture from that.  In many respects both cultures seem similar in terms of their no-nonsense practicality forged in a tough natural environment, and their bent for 'equality'.  But from my reading it seems Norwegians also celebrated the extreme personalities, of which those two certainly were.  I can't imagine the New Zealand equivalents gaining similar respect at the same time in history, unless they were playing rugby.
Or climbing a mountain?
Yes, but Everest was seen as a purely physical achievement, from a stoic man, achieved without upsetting any New Zealand cultural norms. By contrast Nansen and Amundsen's achievements, both in exploration and elsewhere, required more intellectuality, and more willingness to go against the flow. If they didn't go against the flow they wouldn't have achieved what they did. And if they went against the flow to the extent they did in New Zealand and did achieve what they did, I think the tall-poppy syndrome would have set to work on them. Not because of what they achieved, but by the fact they challenged societal norms in becoming successful. 
I'm not saying Edmund Hillary was not smart, nor radically different to the other two. I can see many similarities. But he was much less of an oddball than the other two, when viewed through the lense of cultural norms. You'd need to read the Roland Huntford books on the two to appreciate the difference I'm trying to explain. [8]

A more recent American author explains the source of the egalitarian obsession through a comparison of New Zealand and the US:

British colonies did not grow from the imperial designs of strong rulers or great states, but from the choices of small groups and solitary emigrants. In what is now the United States, these early adventurers were very diverse. Many were rebels, dissenters, and nonconformists. They felt themselves to be victims of tyranny and persecution, and shared an obsession with liberty and freedom. Some of them would later demand liberty to enslave others, or rights to become persecutors in their turn. But they began with a dream of living free, which has endured for many generations. 

New Zealand’s British settlers in the nineteenth century also tended to be dissenters and nonconformists, but in a different way. By their time, liberty and tyranny were no longer the most urgent issues in the United Kingdom. A new generation of English-speaking people had grievances of another kind. Many felt themselves to be victims of social injustice, gross inequity, and deep unfairness not merely in individual acts but in the systemic operation of an entire society. They hoped to build a better world that offered “a fair field and no favour.”

These English-speaking emigrants to North America and New Zealand shared a sense of grievance, a consciousness of rights, and a tradition of autonomous action. They were driven by founding visions, similar in strength and stamina, but different in substance—as Britain itself was different in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.... 

In America, every great colonial migration without exception was driven by a deep hunger for liberty and freedom that had been denied to them in Britain. In New Zealand most were inspired by visions of a better world, founded on ideas of fairness and justice.... [T]he adventurers of Kororareka and the Pilgrims of Plymouth could not have been more different, but in one way they were the same. Both were heirs to English traditions of self-government, individual rights, mutual responsibilities, and the rule of law. These small bands of British settlers introduced that heritage to North America and the South Pacific, and the world is much the better for it. [9] 

This is true. 

1. Robbie Burns, 'To a Louse, 1786'
2. Harold Bourne, 'Authority and the New Zealander,' New Zealand Listener, October 4, 1957, pp. 4 – 5
3. Andre Siegfried, Democracy in New Zealand, 1914, p. 62
4. Robert Stephen Milne, Political Parties in New Zealand, 1969, p. 8
5. Leslie Lipson, The Politics of Equality, 1948, pp 7-9
6. Gradham Wallas, quoted in Lipson, pp 7-9
7. Milne, pp. 6-7
8. Roland Huntford: The Last Place on Earth, 1985; and Nansen: The Explorer as Hero, 2012
9. David Hackett Fischer, Fairness and Freedom, 2012, p. 33, 38, 40