Good old-fashioned Kiwi values

[Content warning: contains links to and quotes from violent and anti-Muslim hate speech.]

David Farrar has some … interesting ideas about how to tighten up immigration policy in the wake of the Sydney “siege”.

I think countries such as Australia, and NZ, need to have much more stringent immigration criteria – I don’t mean banning people on the basis of their religion, but asking prospective migrants a detailed set of questions to ascertain if they hold extreme views, and would be happy living in a secular country.

When pushed on exactly how this process would work:

His ideas are obviously silly flamebait designed to feed the residents of his “cleaned up” comments section who enjoy saying things like “I hope that when they shoot the hostage takers they bury them wrapped in a pig skin and fill the hole in with dead dogs and pig shit” and literally threatening to shoot people who downvote their comments.

But he does highlight some interesting aspects of the “values” discussion.

People love to talk about values, left and right. It’s a call to a shared set of ideals which we’re assured are What Built Our Great Community. It’s a signal to display our solidarity against whatever external forces or threats the person talking about them is trying to warn us about.

It’s also a bit of a load of crap.

Take a look at one of the so-called values which David Farrar assures us “95%” of New Zealanders would ascribe to:

The progressive response is an instinctive “lolwut?” followed by joking (wishing) we could apply that “get in line or go home” approach to people we’re stuck with, like Colin Craig or Bob McCoskrie. A more academic response might note that:

… or critique the idea of getting extremists to tick a box saying “I promise I am not an extremist” only works in towns called Christmas.

But I suggest that we take David Farrar at his word and acknowledge that he has a tiny point: the vast majority of people probably would say “yes, I agree men and women should be equal under the law”.

Case closed, right? Voila, values.

Except it’s really, really vague, and that’s the whole point of this kind of values talk. It’s actually totally meaningless; like Bella Swan, it’s an empty vessel for the readers and viewers to pour their own assumptions into.

Anyone will agree with a bland proposition like that. It’s what comes after that divides us.

“I agree men and women should be equal under the law – that’s why we must stop women’s scholarships to university!”

“I agree men and women should be equal under the law – so we should cut funding to women’s organisations like Rape Crisis!”

“I agree men and women should be equal under the law – but we have to remember men and women are very different!”

And there are people out there who honestly do believe that they support “equality” between men and women. It’s just the kind of equality which involves keeping up the sexist traditions of the past which rob women of any real power or agency.

The key thing is this: talk of “values” is the domain of religious zealots and warmongers. The pretence that us “normal” people (white, English-speaking, heterosexual cis men) are united in a “normal” worldview (capitalist, individual, xenophobic) is pushed by the powerful to reinforce their power. In the wake of events like Sydney it’s used to push even more draconian, illiberal laws which only generate more conflict.

David Farrar can dress it up as a reasonable, moderate, proportionate response as much as he likes, but look to his commenters: there’s the true face of “Kiwi values”.

Let slip the dogwhistles of war

In discussions, potential possibility, no commitment, carrying out a scoping mission – the plan to send NZ military forces to Iraq to combat Islamic State is only the vaguest of options at this point. The story was broken by Australian media first, but John Key has wasted no time in jumping on the bandwagon, talking up the idea of a joint mission with the Aussies operating under the ANZAC badge.

Yep, in the centenary year of World War One, as he’s on shaky ground over dirty dealings, lying to journalists, granting sweeping new powers to an intelligence service whose political neutrality is compromised, John Key has had the brainwave of flying a (newly-designed) nostalgia flag.

After hearing our Prime Minister refer to the deployment of troops as “symbolic“, given the timing, my reaction was this:

But the political logic seems obvious enough: there’s a good chunk of our national identity in the ANZAC campaign, evoking our rugged go-getting colonial upstart beginnings. And joining the fight against IS isn’t a hard sell, on the face of it, after weeks of news coverage amping them up into the worst threat the world has faced since Saddam Hussein (read as many levels into that as you will.) And of course, they’re just going to be trainers. Not combat troops. They’ll be safe in their little bases running drills for the actual fighters.

The only difficult bit should be balancing the safety concerns with the desire to show some muscle and talk up the “taking the fight to IS” rhetoric.

Yet this isn’t going over easily. We’ve got far too much recent experience of our “trainers” ending up in firefights. Ten Kiwi soldiers have died in Afghanistan, including our first woman to die in a combat role. I don’t think many people really begrudge the idea of sending in reconstruction teams to help a war-torn nation rebuild itself, but we also know, from recent, bloody international experiences, that a warzone is a warzone and there’s no safe little corners where the only threat is someone smashing their thumb with a hammer.

And maybe we – the political nerds, the media, the public – are just a little bored of hearing John Key spin something out of nothing. From the jam-tomorrow promises of budget surpluses to the vaguest of tax cut promises in the election campaign to the “potential possibility” of an ANZAC deployment, even the most die-hard fanboy has to be wondering when we’ll hear the Prime Minister say something concrete.

The lurch to the right begins

John Key is busily constructing the smokescreen for his third term, and the key phrase is going to be “centre ground“.

“Obviously there are some things we want to do; RMA (Resource Management Act) reform, employment law reform, but they’d be very much based around what’s in the carry over provision … what we talked about before we left. We’re not looking to do radical, different things.”

But let’s remember a few things:

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill which National are going to pass in their first 100 days is radical rightwing reform. Despite the spin that it’s about “fairness and flexibility” in the workplace it attacks rights as fundamental as getting a regular rest break.

The ERA Bill stirred up so much resistance that they weren’t able to pass it last term, especially after John Banks resigned in disgrace.

In fact, it’s the perfect example of this narrative in action: take law changes which will undermine the wages and conditions of every New Zealand worker, make it easier for bad bosses to fire people whenever they want, but as long as you keep hammering the “fairness and flexibility” line you can pretend it’s not a dramatic shift to the right.

If anyone believes that Key’s third term won’t see a ramping up of the rightwing agenda to run down our public services and open more and more of our country to private interest plundering, I have a public/private bridge partnership to sell you.