Monday, July 31, 2006

"Treason" and hypocrisy

There's an old saying that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. If so, Don Brash has been pretty dubious recently. In his immigrant-bashing speech on Friday, he said that

You can’t be a New Zealander and write to foreign newspapers urging a boycott of New Zealand exports, as one would-be citizen did recently in reaction to the publication by two newspapers of some cartoons satirizing Mohammed.

Later that same day, he went even further, and on National Radio's Checkpoint, called such behaviour treason [audio]:

It's quite different, criticising your country, from sending a letter to a foreign newspaper saying "don't buy anything from New Zealand". That's treasonous...

[w]riting to a foreign newspaper saying "do not buy goods from New Zealand" - that it seems to me is verging on treason.

(Original emphasis)

Firstly, Brash is simply wrong. The crime of treason is defined in s73 of the Crimes Act 1961. It includes things like killing or wounding the monarch (a lovely holdover from feudalism there), as well as levying war against New Zealand or using force to overthrow the government (presumably burning the Beehive might be covered as well). It does not include "damaging the New Zealand economy" or "saying things that Don Brash doesn't like". Though possibly Brash will want to change that if ever allowed near power.

But suppose for the sake of argument that we grant Brash his premise, and agree for the sake of argument that telling people not to buy our stuff or otherwise speaking in a way which would potentially damage the New Zealand economy is treason. What then does that say about people who essentially tell tourists not to come here because we're rife with petty crime, or point out that we have no climate change policy and our greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, thus encouraging Europeans not to buy our stuff because we're environmentally dirty. Or indeed, someone who consistently gives speeches - overseas, even - saying that the New Zealand economy is a basket case, sending the clear message to foreigners that they shouldn't invest here?

Don Brash would surely deny that his long history of bagging New Zealand is treasonous in any way, regardless of the possible economic consequences. But then he must extend the same right to everybody else, and accept that their criticisms are also part of the ordinary workings of a democratic society. To adopt any other position would be the height of hypocrisy - and an invitation to be judged by his own standards.


"Foreign speculators are helping to steal the own-your-own-home dreams of thousands of young and less well-off New Zealanders"..
I heard this filth being talked on the talkback radio. The people were all roused up and angry and agreed with the party that said this. The party? The "neither left nor right party" led by none other than 'Honest Fitzsimons'.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/31/2006 08:47:00 PM

...And this from the Big Colonial With A PhD In Politics (but obviously not in economic history) from a society built on the destruction of aboriginals:

"The Green Party is asking the Government to reveal whether allowing the entry of Chinese labour into New Zealand, working at Chinese wage rates, is on the table at the free trade talks that recommenced today in Beijing..."

How much nicer it would be, how much more decent and kind it would be, to exclude those Yellow peasants from getting the chance to work in Australian and NZ ports ... they'd be awfully much better off back in the Police State of China where there is no chance of labour unions. How absolutely criminal it would be to let 'em come down under where they'd in no time at all be organized by the Australasian unions and protected by Australasian courts...."

Green philosophy is for rich spoilt brats - no wonder they have made an "opening" to the National Party.

Posted by Anonymous : 7/31/2006 09:25:00 PM

Brash is a klutz, no doubt about it and he leaves himself open to the silly objections of the uncharitable.... but, let's for the record get the obvious charitable interpretation of Brash's "treason"/newspaper-letter remarks on the table....

The paragraph that talked about the letter-writer began with the point about the loyalty and commitment dimension of becoming a citizen of NZ (or a citizen of any country for that matter). If you're just a permanent resident, let alone a temporary residient of some kind, you can screw up or make yourself unwelcome in various ways but you aren't subject to the additional evaluations of disloyalty, etc.. You can't betray NZ because you haven't really committed to her.

Brash ran this point together with his point about ideals of liberty and democracy that he thinks it's important immigrants sign up to.... OK.... so if you are a NZ citizen as well as certain things you ideally should believe you are also assessable for your loyalty, patriotism etc.. Now, clearly what one owes to one's country - what counts as morally culpable disloyalty - is a very vexed matter. Isn't the real patrioit the one who tells the unflinching truth about her country, shaming it to the world if necessary? It's certainly intellectually tempting to think so,... But almost all of us feel some sort of conflict in this regard, and think on occasions that it's still right to regard certain (normally non-criminal) actions as disloyal etc..

The conflict here has a familiar shape: the role of friend or lover etc. normally precludes objective assessment: your lover or friend can't tell you what to wear, what makes your bum look big,.... Still we shouldn't start blabbing "Friendship, the last refuge of a scoundrel" Friends/lovers and their partiality towards us is an important value in its own right and we wouldn't want it eliminated in favor of the universally brutally objective.

But these are inherently rather difficult matters. What may strike you as disloyal or unsupportive may strike your friend as the moment when they needed to really stop you embarrassing yourself. Similarly at the level of countries, almost all of us think we can recognize betrayal and disloyalty of various sorts when we see it, but the person telling the truth about their country to the world will tend to see things differently precisely in their case - that they were practising the higher loyalty of the *true* friend/patriot etc.

Back to Brash.... He's saying that loyalty, patriotism etc - a very specific sort of moral evalution - is part of citizenship, and that when you become a citizen you open yourself to a novel kind of criticism, albeit one that, accept in relatively few ultra-extreme cases, will always be controversial. Brash is right about this, and we should resist the intellectual's temptation to remove this layer of moral vocabulary from our relations to our country (just as we do in the friend case).

Is it disloyal of someone to write letters to foreign papers saying "Don't buy NZ!" Some people are always going to think so, but others are not going to be bothered by it. You may disgaree with Brash's example, but he doesn't need the particular verdict he finds natural to make his real point, which is that a whole new range of assessments kick in with citizens and anyone who's not up for that should not become a citizen. (Insanely, of course, NZ allows non-citizens to vote which screws up some of the natural ways to draw boundaries in this sort of area... but set that point aside here.)

So Brash's "verging on treason" stuff is overdone but it's best understood as gesturing at the additional level of moral evaluation that we've described rather than at anthing narrowly legal - although the treason prevision is very clear that it's not a normal offence - it's something that only citizens - those who've given their allegiance - and not mere permament resident are liable for...

Now let's go back to the letter writer bitching about NZ newspapers printing the Mohammed cartoons. Surely all of us do feel a little queasy about that.... not beacuse of the possible damage to exports although that's part of it, but because the perspective of the letter writer *isn't* plausibly that of the true friend/patriot etc. who has to tell the truth etc.. They seem rather like an enemy of free speech: they just *do* set alarm bells ringing about bedrock values not having been accepted.

I assume that it's this sort of issue that led Brash to find the example salient and for him to react a little vehemently to it. (Brash needs to get out his of whatever bubble he's in and run all his speech examples by someone who doesn't share his starting points. )

None of i/s's parallel examples raise these sorts of worries and instead they're much more naturally fitted into the perspective of the true friend/patriot etc. who has to tell the truth etc..

So i/s's charge of hypocrisy is weak. The cases are different, and insofar as they're the same to that extent we're after all dealing with charges of disloyalty that are inherently a little conflicted and feelings-ridden so it's not clear that "hypocrisy" is the right way to think about anything.

How much love for one's country is enough? And what constitutes real love for country? are the sorts of questions that hover in the background here... and they don't permit of precise or final answers. But... to return to my main point... Brash doesn't need any particular or final answers here to cinch his main line of argument.

Sorry to tax everyone with the long counter-exegesis!

Posted by Anonymous : 7/31/2006 10:29:00 PM

Anon - and you conveniently forgot to exclude the reason Norman was concerned...

“Chinese workers are prevented from forming free trade unions and to introduce workers without those trade union rights into the New Zealand labour market would be a disaster for workers’ wages and conditions here. "

The statement speaks for itself actually.

And as for home ownership, the Greens appear opposed to rich capitalists excercising their power over NZ. I suspect that the party would restrict inflationary 'investment' from NZ capitalists too if they could.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/01/2006 10:13:00 AM

Let me annotate.

Citizenship is not a moral state, it's a legal state. Brash wants tighter immigration laws. Note the word "laws" there? Does it suggest to you that maybe we're dealing with legal rights and legal requirements rather moral rights and moral requirements?

You're running together a bunch of things... sure law is one thing, and broader moral evaluations are another. No disagreement there. They're linked in various ways though. In the context of discussions of citizenship "allegiance" is central and has both a legal character and a broader moral one. Having taken up citizenship you can then betray your allegiance and that can have serious legal consequences (all the official treasonous S 73 of the crimes act stuff) but also broader consequences in the eyes of your fellow citizens (most likely positive with some, negative with others).

Different point: Filtering immigrants for compatibility with liberal democracy is a perfectly reasonable and probably essential thing to do. (And it's not at all the same thing as being intolerant of internal critics of lib democ/diversity - see earlier discussion.) According to some people we're currently doing exactly that, in which case Brash is in the first instance just saying "be assiduous about how you currently carry out that filtering".

Your defence of Brash is an outright attack on our democratic liberal ideals - and as such it reinforces Idiot's point about hypocrisy.

No it's not. No it doesn't. It seems to me that only two thing (that you keep running together) would make you happy.

(a) a lib democratic regime that takes no position about what whether new citizens agree with its basic character [anything less is you claim hideously intolerant]
(b) a lib democrat community that has no use for broader notions of allegiance/loyalty etc. and therefore probably has no use for legal notions of treason etc.

Both (a) and (b) are stupid things to want in my view.

(a) isn't rationally required and it appears to be a recipe for liberal democracies to commit suicide. They're literally not selecting themselves. [You normally have to have been seriously dumbed down by a bad ideology to miss this point.]

(b) is less obviously a mistake, but it is (but I won't repeat the basic arguments about that in this note.)

The importance of an impartial even-handed rule of law is that it goes beyond tribalism. Saying "oh, of course in principle we support free speech, but we still realise that it's disloyal and wrong to criticise the fatherland" is just plain wrong. If you damn well support the democratic liberal ideal then you damn well support free speech. Not "free speech unless they say the wrong things".

You distort and caricature here. If you exercise your rights to free speech then you can be harshly criticized for what you say, and for, among other things, disloyalty. You can contest that characterization of what you're saying or doing perhaps by convincing people that you're the real patriot, the real lover of NZ (because you're saving NZ from some terrible mistake). And so the free speech parade continues... But what *you* are calling for is the elimination of a certain form of criticism... and that's not and should not be in the cards in my view.

I'm not claiming that there is no role for subjectivity and personal relationships in moral decisions. I am claiming that at the level of the nation, the government, and the law, it is part of the liberal ideal that we have moved beyond subjective they-must-conform-to-be-part-of-the-in-group decisions and on to the objective, equal-rights-for-all justice-is-blind decisions.

Nothing I've said requires conformity within the community. You're right that a lib. democracy is constituted by a very high degree of equanimity about the particular conceptions of a good life that its citizens pursue. Lib.democracy also gives a very special role to reason, which, as it were, knows no country and amounts to taking up a view that's not just (highly) impartial between the members of the community but between all human beings (between all members of Kant's kingdom of ends to be technical). In effect, icehawk, you and i/s continually reassert this universalist vision-side of lib. democracy (at least when it suits you to do so). More modest (inverting metaphors -less austere?) liberal democrats such as myself try to take seriously the claims of the particular instance of lib. democ. one's got, its needs to be self-sustaining, the fact that the flesh and blood creatures who are its citizens aren't and couldn't ever be purely rational creatures: they're *here* which isn't itself a place in the space of reasons. And so on.

Your argument could just as easily be a defence of cronyism ("it's intellectually tempting to say the MP shouldn't give a plum contract to his brother, but all of us feel some moral conflict in this regard...").

Don't see this at all sorry. Suppose a big company is deciding whether to set up a research center in NZ or in Australia. If a NZ MP tries to entice them to set up here, she's doing her job, defending our interests etc.. One could describe her as a crony on behalf of NZ over Australians if one wanted to be unkind (or found the universalist/no place in partciaulr vision supernaturally compelling). If on the other hand she tries to convince the company to go to Australia then she's betrayed us. A hell of a lot of people would say she should be gone at that point.

The case you describe is intra-country and so I wouldn't have any trouble condemning it - it's part of the job of the minister in question to eschew such favoritism etc.. Of course the moral conflict is real in this case too... nepotism/corruption is completely natural (which is why we have to constantly watch out for it)!

I do think there are real conflicts between a broader moral vocabulary of loyalty etc. and an undoubtedly appealing universalist-vision that liberal democracy carries within it. People are going to draw different lines, and as far as I can see it's appropriate that they do so. It would be horrible to live in a country where everyone had a 'my country, right or wrong" attitude but it's far from obvious to me that a country has a future if there aren't some people around like that in your community (maybe a solid 15% or so would be my best guess). Similarly, it would be completely horrible to live in country where everyone had your and i/s's view that any defence of NZ interests in zero-sum games is presumptively illegitimate - "valuing NZ lives more than non-NZ lives" I can just hear i/s now! - and arguably a country full of people like that would has no future (i/s has admitted elsewhere that it's a matter of indifference to her whether NZ has a future.). Given then that there's going to be and arguably should be divergence about this basic issue, one always knows that questions of loyalty etc. will always come up for some people (and also that what we might call "loyalty-to-reason" questions about those questions will always emerge for others such as you) if you badmouth your country aggressively. That's part of what being a particular liberal democracy that's actually in the world in a particular place tends to involve (and it's not clear there's any serious alternative), and it's no attack on free speech to say so.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/01/2006 04:59:00 PM

Oh, and one other thing just in case anyone's trying to assess the whole debate... Tze Ming Mok's piece on Brash's speech contains only one point worth mentioning. Brash says:

"You can't be a New Zealander and claim that some other law takes precedence over the law of the New Zealand Parliament. "

to which Mok replies nicely: "Yes you can... what about international human rights law cases?" As Mok observes it's clear in context that Brash's really not thinking about that sort of case and probably has the laws of other states and various religious authorities in mind. Brash *could* certainly turn around and outsmart Mok at this point and say "Yes, actually international law only has authority over us via the action of Parliament"... that's a very common position to take in the US and it makes a lot of sense. But Brash doesn't have to do that - he could instead just concede that international human rights cases by their very nature as, at least nominally, ascending to some more general and abstract court don't present the sort of immediate conflict of allegiance problems that he was thinking of.

So Brash has a mixture of concession- and embrace-the-reductio-type responses available to him.

And Mok scores no other points.

The gap between what Lefty commentators think they achieve (and what they say of each other that they achieve) and what they really achieve is simply staggering....

Posted by Anonymous : 8/01/2006 05:55:00 PM

Citizenship is first and foremost a legal state - it says that you've settled here permanently and are unlikely to be expelled on a governmental whim. There are very few legal obligations on citizens that don't also apply to residents, or indeed visitors.

When you apply for citizenship, you are obliged to copy out the "duties of citizens" from the application guide. These are however unenforcable - you can't be stripped of your citizenship for failing to "promote New Zealand's laws" if you assert that seaside liquor bans are bloody stupid, for instance.

Any attempt to control or vet the opinions of immigrants is doomed to failure - there is nothing to stop someone signing up for "western values" and then undergoing a conversion to fundamentalist Islam directly they get PR or citizenship. We should just accept that just as people who are born here have dumb ideas, so do people who move here. Get over it..

(Also see this if you're interested..)

Posted by Rich : 8/02/2006 04:51:00 PM

Rich, I'll annotate:

Citizenship is first and foremost a legal state - it says that you've settled here permanently and are unlikely to be expelled on a governmental whim. There are very few legal obligations on citizens that don't also apply to residents, or indeed visitors.

There's stuff that's right here but also lots that's wrong. You are right that naturalized citizenship is a legal status but it's importantly not a passive legal status like permananet residency that you can be granted - rather it's essentially something you have to *do* - make a specific commitment to your new home. You can rack up the green cards/permanent residencies but citizenships always have the potential to conflict with each other precisely beacuse they have this different active dimension. And notions of allegiance and loyalty just do extend beyond the legal... Compare: Ideals of monogamy are much broader than just the legal fact of only being able to be married to one person at a time. (You don't have to be bigamous to attract legitimate criticism!)

You are right that in NZ that non-citizens and citizens are treated essnetially alike. It's almost unbearable I think that non-citizens can vote, work for the government, be on juries, etc..

"Any attempt to control or vet the opinions of immigrants is doomed to failure - there is nothing to stop someone signing up for "western values" and then undergoing a conversion to fundamentalist Islam directly they get PR or citizenship. We should just accept that just as people who are born here have dumb ideas, so do people who move here. Get over it.."

On some level that's right of course, but it's absolutely wrong to conclude from that that liberal democracy can't or shouldn't do what it can to back itself, select for itself. And part of that is just talking about it a lot.... if you don't live in a world of immigrants you can just rely on accumulated tradition to convey and preserve "what's done around here" but if you are going to have massive amounts of immigration then "what's done around here" is changing very quickly and itself provides no guide for the future one way or another. Unless you want to head into utterly uncharted waters all the time then you're going to have to make yourself explicit to yourself, be prepared to indoctrinate with that explicit self-understanding, and be unembarassed about doing so. So I'm not convinced by your suggestion that attempts (baby steps if any really) by countries such as NZ and the UK (that have relatively thin written constitutional traditions) to develop more explicit, normative reflective understanding of themselves represent a return to serfdom. I do understand the appeal of a certain sort of highly neutral state. Good, then you're almost certainly going to have to preach that neutrality to keep it. The neutrality that's so refined as to be neutral between neutrality and non-neutrality - even at the level of what it says about itself - would seem to have a very shaky grasp on the future.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/02/2006 10:56:00 PM


"Some are angered by the trend to racial separatism implicit in much of the nonsense talked about the Treaty of Waitangi. Some are fed-up with the over-weaning political correctness of the nanny-state which Labour has been hell-bent on building."

I left to get away from the free-marketeering, "political correctness gone mad" wankers that still lurk in many corners of NZ. That, and the crap beer.

Posted by Anonymous : 8/03/2006 03:15:00 AM

Thesis or comment ?

Posted by Anonymous : 8/07/2006 04:37:00 PM