Though this blog could very well be retitled Stuff I Disagree With, I try not to argue with the same person two posts in a row, especially when its someone who is mostly on the same side as me. So Im sorry to have to pick on Chris Trotter again. But his recent Bowalley Road post Checkmate In Two Years? needs a response. Im not debating its major thesis I dont know whether the present media flap over free speech for alt-right bigots will or will not blow up into an electoral defeat for Jacinda Arderns Labour-Greens government in 2020. I cant see it myself, but Trotter has historically been better at predicting New Zealand election outcomes than I have. But I have some things to say about the points Trotter raises along the way.
Lets start with this:
Theres a saying, often attributed to Voltaire, which declares: To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize. The free speech controversy, by identifying multiculturalism as the concept Kiwis are not allowed to critique without drawing down the unrelenting wrath of its state-sanctioned and supported defenders, has caused many citizens to wonder when and how nationalism and biculturalism became dirty words.
Do I have to pull out that xkcd cartoon again? When did Southern and Molyneux get arrested? Because I dont remember seeing that bit on the news. People protested against them, yes. That is to say, people criticized them loudly and angrily. Theres a saying, often attributed to Voltaire, which declares
OK, cheap shot. Again, Im not here to rehash my previous post. Im here to talk about multiculturalism and nationalism, and in New Zealand that means giving biculturalism a look-in as well. Trotters post makes as good a springboard as any.
First up, either Trotter or I must be confused about what nationalism means. Trotter says
A country whose elites have signed up to an economic philosophy based on the free movement of goods, capital and labour the three fundamental drivers of globalization is more or less obliged to adopt multiculturalism as it core social philosophy.
Old fashioned New Zealand nationalism, and its more recent offshoot biculturalism, were products of a country which saw itself as offering something uniquely and positively its own to the rest of the world. It is probable that a substantial majority of Kiwis still subscribe to this notion (although a significant minority still struggle with the concept of biculturalism).
What the free speech controversy of the past four weeks revealed to New Zealanders was that too forthright an expression of cultural nationalism can result in the persons advocating such notions being branded xenophobic or racist and even to accusations of being a white supremacist, fascist or Nazi.
The battle for free speech cannot, therefore, be prevented from extending out into a broader discussion over whether or not New Zealanders have the right to reject the downsides of neoliberalism, globalization and multiculturalism. Is it any longer possible to advance the radically nationalistic idea that the nature and future of New Zealand is a matter which New Zealanders alone must decide, without finding oneself pilloried on Twitter or banned from the nations universities?
Abstractions are always fuzzy around the edges, and nationalism shades into racism along one edge and patriotism along another. Still, Trotter is here giving the term a usage that I do not recognise. As I understand the word, the central concept of nationalism is to connect political sovereignty within a given state to membership of some particular ethnicity, understood as being the rightful owners (in some sense) of that state. Foreigners and immigrants, except for expatriates of the favoured ethnicity, are to be excluded from the political process. Typically this exclusion is to be accomplished by exclusion from the territory, sometimes with the alternative option of cultural and linguistic assimilation into the favoured ethnicity. It is not about offering something uniquely and positively our own to the rest of the world. Its about keeping something uniquely and positively our own all to ourselves and the rest of the world can naff off.
What does Trotter mean by the nature and future of New Zealand is a matter which New Zealanders alone must decide? Is the New Zealand whose future is being decided exactly the same entity as the New Zealanders doing the deciding? Is there a concern that the New Zealand electorate might start accepting votes from citizens of Sri Lanka, Ghana, or Luxembourg? Or does the sentence mean People of Pākehā and Māori ethnicity have a special right to exert political control over the lives of anyone, of any ethnicity, resident in the territory governed from Wellington? (Thats insofar as Pākehā is a distinct ethnicity, of course. Im not clear what we white New Zealanders have, as Pākehā, thats uniquely and positively our own and couldnt just as readily be found among, say, white Australians or English-speaking white South Africans.)
A lot of the opposition to global neoliberal capitalism is framed in terms of the threat it poses to the national sovereignty of individual countries over their own economies and ecologies. If this is where Trotter is coming from, then my only quarrel with him is his choice of words. I dont like the idea of land or other local resources being owned and controlled by people who dont live or pay taxes or buy goods and services in the area. But I also dont like the national sovereignty framing. It doesnt bother me that the people who own the farms or mines or whatever arent New Zealanders; it bothers me that the feedback loop between cause and effect is severed, that a small group of powerful people can wreak extensive damage on the landscape and economy without experiencing any consequences to discourage such behaviour. If some corporation is polluting rivers in Otago, its not important to me whether their headquarters are located in Auckland or Beijing.
But at least Trotter does offer some explication of his use of the term nationalism, however incomplete. That gives me some idea what hes talking about. Not so multiculturalism. That word he never unpacks. It is evidently associated with neoliberalism and globalization, but more than that is hard to discern. So I genuinely dont know whether what I will defend for the rest of this post under the name multiculturalism is the same thing as what Trotter is opposing, or at least lending support to the opponents of, under that same name. Bear that in mind as we proceed.