Sunday, 28 February 2016

Whoever the “naked judge” is, I support him

I’m a nudist. It’s not something I’ve made much of on this blog, though I do mention it from time to time. But I am. If you see me with clothes on, it means I’ve made a compromise with either you or the weather today. I have very little liberty, most of the time, to live the way I would prefer. Even in my own house I have to hang net curtains in the windows if I don’t want complaints from the neighbours.

At least one other person in this country who shares my preference in this matter is a District Court judge. All I know about him beyond that is that he’s male and that he frequents the Pineglades Naturist Club near Christchurch, because those are the only personal details given in this Herald article.

Someone took a photo of this judge at Pineglades. Someone uploaded the photo to Pineglades’ website, apparently without his knowledge although he had given them written consent to use the photo – I’m not sure how that works but it isn’t the point. Someone else saw the photo and laid a complaint against the judge.

The Herald is keeping quiet about the identity of both the judge and the complainant, but the wording they report is suspiciously close to Rodney Hide’s opinion piece on the matter. Hide used to be the Parliamentary leader of the Act Party, who present themselves as champions of personal liberty. Of course in practice what they champion is personal liberty for rich white men, but judges tend to be those, so Hide’s hypocrisy demands further explanation.

Hide opens with the concession that nudists ought to be free to do as we wish as long as we do so in private on our own private property. But if you’re a judge, he says, you mustn’t appear in photos practising nudism. If you do that, you can’t do your job any more.

How... does he sit in judgement on sex cases, public indecency charges, or rule on the acceptability of pornography to minors?
To make a concrete example: how can he preside in judgement over a man accused of exposing himself to children?
Isn’t that exactly what he has done?

Um... no. No it isn’t. But this is a typical New Zealand attitude. We like to think we’re easy-going, tolerant, unprejudiced folks who accept people’s differences, who live and let live. We’re not.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Bring back free education

Recently, for the first time in my life, I considered voting for the New Zealand Labour Party. Oh, they’ll have to smarten up a long way if they want me to do more than consider. The Greens are still far and away the best option on the table. But after a thirty-two-year love affair with neoliberalism, Labour are finally returning to the sort of policies that a Labour party ought to be built around. They’re offering free tertiary education.

Well, to a very small and limited degree compared to what everyone in this country had until 1989. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Labour were the ones who first charged students fees for their education. The National Party were elected in 1990 on a promise to remove those fees, which they did – and then cut funding to universities and polytechs so that they were forced to charge much higher amounts to stay afloat.

When I started university in 1996, paying for education was still a new and shocking thing. Many families had been blindsided, with no chance to save up for it, so we all had to borrow massive amounts of money to get through, and that became the norm. National set up the student loans scheme, which has become an ever bigger asset on the government books with each year since. We student activists fought back with marches and occupations and letter campaigns and various other tactics.

In 1999 we sent delegations to every political candidate meeting in town, not to disrupt them in any way but to make sure that education always got a mention at question time. That, along with the protests, helped push education from #6 to #2 in the “issues of concern” polls, and I think that had, well, more than a negligible effect on the election that year, when National was voted out and Labour in.

Issue #1 was taxes. National MPs went about that year with tears in their eyes for the skilled youth of New Zealand, who were apparently leaving in droves for other shores due to financial hardship induced by taxes. They called it the “brain drain”. I was one of quite a few people, I think, who pointed out to them that student loan repayments were a bit more oppressive, and a bit more specific to skilled youth, than taxes. I had the satisfaction of flummoxing Bill English with that one.

Apparently National did take heed, because now that they’re back in office they’ve introduced legislation – such is National’s compassion for skilled youth in financial hardship – to detain people who go overseas and skip payments. Obviously they can only do that when the people come back to visit, and a couple of weeks ago the law claimed its first victim.

As if to demonstrate what neoliberalism does to a culture’s soul, the first comment on my Facebook feed was “No sympathy for the dude who didn’t pay his student loan.” The general feeling of the conversation was that if we have to work so hard to pay for our education, then how is it fair that some people get it handed to them for free by swanning off overseas? There have been similar remarks about Labour’s proposal. I guess I can understand that. But I think the indignation is misdirected.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Can’t we just ban misogynist trolls?

Content note: misogyny, rape advocacy

The next post was going to be about who should pay for tertiary education in New Zealand, since that question has come up in the news in a couple of different ways. But then I heard that “Roosh” Valizadeh, of Return of Kings fame, is planning meet-ups of like-minded men in New Zealand, including here in Dunedin. To add insult to injury, they’re scheduled for 6 February, that is to say Waitangi Day, a day when New Zealanders remember that civilization is built on agreements and kept promises.

It’s hard to tell how much of Roosh’s platform he genuinely stands on, and how much is intended to make people angry so that he can feel important. The “Kings” have argued that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote and that men should be allowed to rape them, as long as it’s on private property for some reason. They value women by their bodies and men, Roosh claims, by their capabilities; I strongly suspect that the male value scales are weighted so as to make Roosh himself the world’s greatest man.

I don’t like Roosh or his ilk – perhaps you can tell. I must confess the thought of his pathetic followers turning up at their meeting point only to be marched off to the police station in handcuffs is amusing. But is the power of the state justified in this instance? It’s a rule too often forgotten on both sides of politics: before you grant the government a new power to interfere with people, imagine that power in the hands of your bitterest opponents.

Fine, let’s imagine it. I don’t want the police to be able to go around intimidating people for disagreeing with the government, something they have recently done. Of course, Roosh et al. don’t just disagree with government policy; they want to perform illegal activities. (Rape is still illegal here, despite ominous precedents.) But they’re not actually gathering to commit rape, they just want to change the law and make it legal. Well, I want certain illegal things to become legal too – cannabis and public nudity spring to mind – and I’d rather the police didn’t harass me or others who get together to push for those changes. Roosh’s political ideals call for major upheavals to society’s power structures, but again, so do some of mine.

Are there any kinds of speech that should not be tolerated? Of course there are. There’s fraudulent speech, where you make a false statement for money or other gain; that’s not relevant here. There’s slanderous speech, where you make a false statement that harms someone else’s reputation. There’s threatening speech, including incitement to violence. And then there’s hate speech, but that’s controversial. Many self-styled free speech advocates make a lot more noise about protecting hate speech than, say, political protest. But OK, I admit, there is an argument to be had.

“Hate speech” does not of course refer to statements like “I don’t like Roosh or his ilk”. Nor is it quite the same as offensive speech. As I use the term, “hate speech”, meaning the kind of speech I would be happy to see banned, is simply a form of the kinds of intolerable speech I’ve already mentioned: slander (of a group, such as women) and incitement to violence (against a group, such as women, where violence includes rape). Well, there you go. Roosh’s little cadre are outside the pale after all.

However, just because we would be within our rights to call the police on him doesn’t make it a good strategy. Roosh wants to make a splash and be noticed. We don’t want him bragging to his sympathizers “Look how important we are! We’re so threatening they felt the need to arrest us!” which is pretty much what he’s after to be holding these meet-ups in the first place. We don’t need to play his game.

New Zealand social justice activists have bigger fish to fry. The present government, with its usual attitude to democracy, are hosting the signing of the disastrous Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, also just in time for Waitangi Day. This weekend we need to make a big statement about who we are, what we aspire to, and how different that is from what’s being foisted on us. That could certainly include a few sidelong dismissals of Roosh’s little gatherings. We surely don’t need to dignify them with more of a response than that.

Because – Roosh, in the unlikely event that you’re reading this – you don’t deserve any more of a response than that. You’re a sad little man who thinks bringing other people down will make himself bigger. Your odious philosophy, were there any chance of it being put into practice, would ruin men’s lives as surely (though more subtly) as it would ruin women’s. I’m embarrassed to share a gender with you. You do not speak for me.

EDIT: About an hour after I posted this, Roosh cancelled the meet-ups.