Opinion–In response to Shane Te Pou

“Do as I say, not as I do” was my first thought in response to Shane Te Pou’s recent opinion piece.  He wrote asking for those he disagrees with to provide him more reasons and arguments for their views (and there was quite a list). 

A great request in itself, yet he and many others within the progressive/woke movement are simultaneously the same ones seeking to de-platform, belittle, and silence those they disagree with well before any opinion or argument can be put forward.  He asks why he doesn’t hear conservatives’ arguments while at the same time writing in belittlement of them.

Immediately we see illustrated one of the notable problems with woke progressivism - double speak.  We see this clearly around free speech.  The woke will talk of how free speech is good, but only speech they agree with.  The woke talk of allowing people to speak in public, but only people they like, anyone else is to be de-platformed, cancelled, ridiculed, or harassed.

Shane writes that he wants to “hear more from them [conservatives] on the reasoning behind the views” and yet he is part of a movement that prevents most attempts to do so.  He also assumes, wrongly, that the woke are only focused on the conservative or right wing of politics.  He could not be more wrong, for many on the traditional left are also being disenfranchised.

Conservatives (among many others) are currently arguing that “one person, one vote” is a critical and necessary aspect of democracy.  The woke suggest they have a new way forward, and that democracy is some foreign, “appropriated” concept.   The sadder irony is that no arguments of how a ‘new Aoteraoa democracy’ will improve thousands of years of democratic learning have been put forward by the progressives, but certainly lots of nasty labels given to those of us who challenge them.  When some academics were asked about the importance of freedom of speech, one woke-inspired response argued that freedom is simply a capitalist and colonial concept.  Others have harassed their academic colleagues via petitions and media beat ups, rather than with rational counter arguments.

Just about every kiwi would be angry at the recent comments directed at Nadia Lim.  Shane rightly notes how wrong these were.  And yet, he appears to have little to say about those currently deriding political figures as racists, “useless”, and much more and worse.  Why not decry both as I and other conservatives would?  The answer is simply – the woke choose sides, not consistency.

He also suggests wrongly, that the focus of woke activists is on the right of politics, or more particularly conservatives. He conveniently overlooks that the progressives and woke are just as censorious of many on the left of politics.  In fact, one could even argue that the traditional left are getting beaten up more by the militant woke than anyone else.  We need only think of feminists like Speak Up for Women who cannot even hold a meeting at a university to talk about women’s rights without being harassed and banned. 

As someone who is proudly on the right and conservative, I need to say that despite Shane’s assertion, I do not feel besieged.   I will say however, as many others have, that we are living in a more censorious world.  The very people who write saying they want to hear our arguments are often the same who then go about ensuring alternative views are not published; social media posts are denigrated; that speaking events are de-platformed; or encouraging ‘mobs’ to harass those they disagree with.  I have often said, the woke find it easier to attack the person than properly engage the argument.

 

So Shane, if you want to hear different views from people across the political spectrum and to engage with more arguments – then distance yourself and your friends from the woke progressive politics taking hold here in New Zealand.  Support a breadth of opinion to be published across mainstream media; support the right to free speech in society; call out those de-platforming and cancelling speakers at our universities; and challenge those who spend their days only labelling and mocking opponents.  Then perhaps you will hear those opinions and arguments you say you are so keen to engage.

Shane Te Pou’s Op-Ed:

A core unifying belief that binds conservatives the world over is the conviction that they are victims of a prevailing and censorious - or "woke" - orthodoxy whose adherents are primed to punish them for their heresies.

This is an article of faith on the right and is far and away the preferred subject of conversation over and above anything pertaining to social and political views that presumably cause them to be conservative in the first place.

This cancel culture canard allows them to adopt a besieged posture of defiance without saying out loud what it is they feel they are being prohibited from saying. It operates therefore mostly as a self-imposed set of prohibitions because, speaking as a progressive, I'm actually genuinely curious about what conservatives who, after all, comprise a significant portion of the electorate are thinking on the major issues of the day.

Simon Henry clearly felt liberated from oppressive speech codes when he criticised My Food Bag for including a photo of Nadia Lim in their prospectus, going on to refer to Lim as "Eurasian fluff" - even suggesting it somehow undermined the company's performance.

Like most people I was appalled by his statements, which had a particular resonance in my own Māori/Chinese household. But it also gave me cause to reflect on how such degrading treatment of women had been commonplace not that many years ago. While I don't confess to have been an especially lurid locker-room talker, I have to acknowledge I was complicit in many conversations where women, present or otherwise, were discussed in offensive and demeaning ways. I'm sure there are countless times women walked away from social settings in which I was involved feeling discomfort with the macho banter we accepted as normal back then. I am sorry for all of that.

The unanimous repulsion that greeted Simon Henry's outburst makes it pretty clear what was once acceptable is no longer.

Over time, my sisters (literal or otherwise) along with my wife and many women I count as friends, have helped me understand how this kind of casual sexism, and treatment of women as objects for comment and comparison, is wholly unacceptable.

The unanimous repulsion that greeted Henry's outburst makes it pretty clear what was once acceptable is no longer, a point sheeted home by Lim herself who deftly made the issue not about herself, but about younger women who should not be forced to endure this nonsense. Is the fact a rich lister businessmen can no longer treat women with impunity - or at least not without significant blowback to their reputations - reflective of a "cancel culture"?

Or does it simply reflect a responsive culture, one where what constitutes acceptable discourse evolves in light of shifting collective values? Isn't this just what cultures do?

During the 1990s, during early Treaty negotiations, the most predictable talking point against the settlements was along the lines of "those Māoris will just p*** it up the wall". Versions of this were said openly and all the time, including by high-profile media personalities and political leaders.

Anyone trying to resuscitate that line of argument today would indeed meet a furious reaction, not only because it is patently racist but because our experience with Treaty settlements could not be further from such a characterisation.

It also used to be okay for people like me who work in human resources to ask women candidates whether they had imminent plans for pregnancy. If I asked that today, I would be fired. Is that a bad thing?

Gay friends of mine tell me it's really only in the past five to 10 years they've felt comfortable talking about their partners or children in the workplace. For them, this evolution in attitudes has been liberating not cancelling.

If conservatives feel aggrieved, let them air their grievances. But is it too much to ask them to do so in some good faith, without the accompanying mockery of so-called wokeness.

If you oppose iwi involvement in governing resources, tell us why and give us an alternative. If you don't like the Māori Health Authority model, don't just call it a name and leave it at that. Tell us why the status quo is preferable or what you would do instead. If you're uncomfortable with shifting norms around gender identity, don't persecute an already vulnerable minority; have a grown up discussion that keeps the matter in perspective and doesn't seek to victimise children.

I'm not interested in shaming conservatives. In fact, I'd like to hear more from them on the reasoning behind the views they hold but feel reluctant to espouse. Across the broad sweep of history, the progressive impulse has benefited from the restraint offered by conservatives. That push and pull is an essential feature of our democratic tradition, but it ceases to function usefully if either or both sides reduce the other to cartoonish stereotypes or sworn enemies.