Political-correctness, just a mild nerdy aberration or the new face of socialist mind control? HAMISH CARNACHAN talks to British expert Frank Ellis
Cricket is a simple game. The object is to score more runs than your opposition. There is no grey area. The game has been around for centuries yet it has remained largely unchanged. The rules are clearly recorded in black and white in the hallowed halls of Lords, where the game originated. On the rare occasions that the laws are amended, it is generally to cover an ambiguity, like the underarm ball, and requires little more than the inclusion of a minor clause.
Part of the reason the sport has become ingrained in the New Zealand psyche is possibly because of its uncluttered simplicity – indeed, it must be so because history shows we’re not that good at it.
And the recent revival of cricket in this country may also have had something to do with the fact that sport is one topic people can still talk about candidly. Some subjects are simply no longer discussed in polite company today.
These days it seems you have to be particularly careful what you say and a growing list of issues can’t be discussed in certain circles. You can’t joke about the poor driving habits of immigrants; nor can you chat about Maori and crime or the preferential treatment of indigenous peoples; and associating sexual orientation with the spread of STDs is certainly a social faux pas.
The old laughs we used to enjoy about a short person being vertically challenged and the balding man being follicly-impaired are no longer tolerated either. None of the characters on Shortland Street smoke and those who enjoy the odd drink are portrayed as having an alcohol dependency problem.
It goes on. Nowadays, Pacific Islanders can refer to themselves as the product of a tropical palm tree but “Palagis” are vilified for coining the same turn of phrase. Seventh generation New Zealanders still can’t find a box to tick on their census form that they feel comfortable with – European/Pakeha? Manuhiri? Every government department is now subtitled with its Maori language equivalent, despite the fact that the number of fluent speakers registers nothing more than an insignificant blip on the demographic chart.
Even if you think you might be statistically correct, poking fun at minorities is clearly no longer tolerated in today’s New Zealand. That may not be such a bad thing, especially if you happen to be among those being ridiculed. But when seemingly legitimate public debate or concern is stifled for fear of being branded racist, homophobic, or even redneck, to name a few of the trendy new phrases, some commentators say a dangerous precedent is being set.
When New Zealand First leader Winston Peters late last year attacked the government’s immigration policy over migrants’ nationalities, Labour immediately labelled his party “racist”. Then, Peters accused the government of being “mad” for allegedly allowing people into this country under a “homosexual family member” category. Again, Labour jumped on the defensive, saying he had moved from attacking foreigners, to bashing gays.
And the woeful plight of Maori in New Zealand society is a debate that has all but been snuffed out today too. Few dare to query, yet alone criticise, what statistics clearly show as Maori under-achievement. But now, even Maori who slate their own are condemned.
This was clearly illustrated in last month’s outburst when Dame Kiri Te Kanawa pointed out that Maori in Australia seemed to be doing a lot better than Maori in New Zealand, and suggested that a change in attitude might make a difference. The inference was that Maori in Australia are different because they have to work.
Back in New Zealand, Maori attacked her for being “out of touch”, and said she had clearly been living overseas for too long. Even Labour advised that important Maori role models, such as Dame Kiri, should encourage, not criticise, Maori.
Peters, who most will acknowledge as one person not afraid of speaking his mind, said in a recently presented speech that New Zealand has now become the home of the politically correct (PC) state of mind – “one of the worst curses that can be inflicted on any nation.”
Peters isn’t the only public figure to cry foul of a seemingly concerted push by the Labour Government to push New Zealand down a PC path. Newstalk ZB host Leighton Smith has been outspoken on the issue and talkback shows around the country run hot whenever the subject is broached.
Bill English has also taken a swing at PC. In his first political speech of the year the National Party leader asserted that, “the culture of cringing political correctness must end”.
So what exactly is this PC business about and why are there a growing num-ber of vocal critics con-centrating their efforts on putting a halt to it? Quite simply, many see the political correctness movement as a serious danger. In fact, PC is worse than a curse, it is a cancer that slowly, but surely, eats away at society and all established societal values, warns a visiting expert on the subject.
Dr Frank Ellis, a lecturer in Russian studies at the University of Leeds in England, has written a number of essays on political correctness and has published widely on matters involving the Soviet Union and Marxism. His books include From Glasnost to the Internet: Russia’s New Infosphere, The MacPherson Report: Antiracist Hysteria and the Sovietisation of the United Kingdom, and he is currently writing a manuscript on Soviet war-literature.
Before taking up an academic career Ellis was a professional soldier serving in the parachute regiment in the Special Air Service. To some it may seem a peculiar transition to go from one of the world’s elite military units into academia, however, for Ellis, his army background made it a logical step.
During his last few years in the service he worked as a military analyst and Russian and German interpreter in West Berlin, working under the auspices of the Four Power Agreement – the WWII pact whereby France, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union administered Berlin.
Ellis’s brief during that time ranged from some “very sensitive” work to understanding the Soviet military stationed in East Germany, which would have provided the main armed force to attack NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) in the event of a war. This role brought him into contact with a large number of senior Soviet officers and diplomats – an experience he describes as “fascinating”.
Having the Russian speaking background, courtesy of the British army’s interpreter school, Ellis says he reached a stage in his life where he wanted to saturate himself in Russian. Essentially that meant a university application so after leaving the army he obtained his first degree and then went on to complete a doctorate.
Ellis first stumbled across the term ‘political correctness’ whilst he was building up what has become an extensive knowledge of socialist Russia. But before diving into this communist link, what exactly does the term PC mean?
“Political correctness is intended as a term of orthodoxy with regard to certain issues,” Ellis explains. “It is inextricably linked with multiculturalism and a whole range of ‘isms that go with it such as feminism, antiracism, environmentalism, attitudes towards homosexuality and so on.”
To that extent, Ellis suggests political correctness means adopting a position on any one of those issues that is consistent with the various orthodoxies on those subjects.
“For example, feminism has adopted over the years a hostile approach to the nuclear family. It regards the nuclear family as a prison, which ensnares and traps women, and does not allow them to develop their full potential. That would be a politically correct position to take on that issue. A politically incorrect position to take on that issue would be to say, ‘that’s complete nonsense – all societies everywhere have demonstrated marriage and the nuclear family and we are dealing with one of the fundamental building blocks of all societies wherever you find them,” he says.
While the term PC has been around in our society for some years now, and political debate over it has been highlighted in the media over recent months, the earliest reference Ellis has been able to discover goes back more than 80 years – to the Soviet Union in 1921.
At that time the notion of political correctness became an important tool for Lenin who was trying to consolidate his control over his party, and used it to impose orthodoxy on almost every facet of society – education, politics, literature, law, ideology and even citizens’ reading habits.
“You can see that where it comes from it has rather unpleasant origins in view of Lenin’s contribution to the twentieth century.”
That is precisely why we should be concerned about PC appearing in our society, says Ellis, because it directly threatens civil liberties.
He made this connection in 1997 when the incoming British Labour Government set up an inquiry to look at how the police conducted their investigation into the murder of a black teenager in London in 1993. No convictions were ever brought for the crime and the Labour party argued that the police did not pursue the inquiry as sufficiently as they should have done because the victim was black.
The inquest, headed by retired Scottish Judge William MacPherson, concluded that the British police force, specifically the metropolitan police in London, was institutionally racist. Subsequently, some 70 recommendations were made in the report in order to change police operational activities.
“In my opinion, many of these recommendations are a direct assault on many British freedoms. One of the most draconian of these was the proposal to consider the prosecution of racist incidences otherwise done in a public place. That, really, is referring to the privacy of your own home and the only way that can be policed is by bugging people’s houses.”
And herein lies the link to socialism, according to Ellis. A totalitarian state is one in which every aspect of social and political life is controlled by the state. Although the British government did not accept all the recommendations, Ellis concludes that the MacPherson report represented a form of “Sovietisation” of Britain – a step whereby too much power was being handed over to the government.
One of the recommendations in the report, which has since been ruled an operational requirement, redefines how the British police judge a “racist incident”. It states that a racist incident is any incident that is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.
“Straight away, from that definition, you have a charter for lots of malicious people to make all kinds of false accusations. The most innocent, offhand, remark in the work place could be used as the basis of a police investigation into you. It’s quite threatening,” says Ellis.
The MacPherson report also made reference to the importance of introducing multiculturalism into public sector institutions, bureaucracies and the police force. Underlying this push is the assumption that multiculturalism is desirable. Ellis says there are some good aspects of having a diverse society with different ethnic groups, but he believes that this theory does not stand up to critical scrutiny.
“Historically there is plenty of evidence that shows multicultural societies have certain fault lines in them and when the conditions are right they can tear themselves to pieces. The most recent examples are Yugoslavia and Rwanda. I think we’re entitled to be suspicious about claims that diversity is the same as good inner strength.”
While few would suggest that New Zealand is anywhere near such internal turmoil, some argue that there is already a strong sense of inequality that stems from a view that Maori are receiving preferential treatment to non-Maori.
Ellis suggests divisiveness is a key product of a politically correct, multicultural environment.
That is what prompted Bill English to indicate, earlier in the year, that his party might withdraw its support for Maori seats in Parliament. This move is in line with National’s premise of one standard of citizenship for all New Zealanders, and the party’s opposition to policies that give Maori special treatment, creating segregation.
In the same speech, English criticised a “taniwha clause” in the Local Government Act legislating that every decision made by local councils has to take into account the special relationship Maori have with land, air, water and other ‘toanga’.
He said the Government was risking throwing away gains by continuing down the path of division.
From a foreign perspective, Ellis suggests that those behind the politically correct movement have given up Marxism and conceded the economic side to the capitalists. However, he says they now seek to advance their agenda by concentrating on the commanding heights of culture, essentially “the universities; the public sector bureaucracies; the social services; the judiciary and the legal system, and also the media.”
“Over the last 20 years they’ve done this very successfully,” he says.
Winston Peters would probably agree with Ellis on that stance. He recently attacked the University of Otago’s new policy, whereby students can write assessments and exams in Maori, as “absurd political correctness”.
He called the university’s plan, intended to encourage the use of Maori language, a waste of time and money.
In his New Year speech English acknowledged that speaking out on issues, like those also raised by Peters, risked being labelled a racist or a Maori-basher by the beehive. According to Ellis, this is one of the most “insidious” aspects of political correctness – the way in which advocates pull out “hate words” to scare their critics. He says this ploy creates a “wall of silence” behind which they “advance their agenda”.
Tariana Turia’s highly publicised “holocaust” reference to the treatment of Maori people by Pakeha colonisation would arguably make many people wonder if Ellis has hit the nail on the head.
But he goes further, saying proponents of political correctness turn the world into language and culture by controlling the words we use – by defining the limits of acceptability of the meanings of certain words and ideas that we use.
“The term institutional racism strikes me as being very nebulous and deeply threatening because calling someone a racist is like calling someone a witch in seventeenth century Massachusetts. It inspires fear and dread and loathing and otherwise sensible people collapse and wilt when you accuse them of being a racist. The onus is never on the accuser to prove it. The onus is always on the accused to show that he is not. It overturns the presumption of innocent until proven guilty.
“Today there are various words to replace words that are now deemed unacceptable. People think there is something wrong with this – why it’s wrong to use this word in a way which we have always used it – but they are unable to articulate a response to why it is wrong. They are vulnerable to being outmanoeuvred by the people who concern themselves with this sort of thing in universities.
“Going back to the fear thing, human beings, even in western democracies don’t like standing out. Many people don’t like being made to feel as if they are the only person who holds certain views regarded as odd or strange. This is a measure of the achievement of these people in that views, which 20 years ago were regarded as quite normal and reasonable, are now regarded as bizarre and on the verge of making you a neo-Nazi.”
Ellis says taking away freedom of speech is yet another example of how the PC set infringes on citizens’ civil rights and why political correctness should not be taken lightly, yet alone tolerated.
“All societies, that I have ever studied, that imposed censorship have ultimately collapsed. We are talking here about a form of intellectual censorship. Certain things need to be said sometimes and certain problems need to be faced up to. One of the problems we have to face up to in Britain is that immigration, legal and illegal is a major issue. It is causing terrible problems and is starting to cause a very extreme right-wing backlash.
“All societies and countries are occupied within certain physical infrastructure constraints. There is no doubt in my mind that Britain has reached those limits now. Our national health service simply cannot cope. The infrastructure in the southeast of England in London can’t cope. We have a massive housing crisis.
“Also there are problems in the way we do things. Not all cultures do things in the same way. Here you have a source for friction. How do you solve that friction? One way is to start killing your neighbours. The other way is to give extra power to the judiciary and the public sector bureaucracies to police our lives. So the more people you let in from different cultures or backgrounds, the more complicated a society becomes and the greater the need is for public sector bureaucracies to interfere in our lives.”
The February 2003 issue of Investigate highlighted a growing concern about the Attorney General’s capacity to stack the bench of the new Supreme Court with judges sympathetic to Labour’s social and political agenda.
“Despite having failed to get any electoral endorsement from the public, [Margaret] Wilson nonetheless finds herself, as an un-elected MMP member, very much the power behind Clark’s throne,” growls one commentator in the ‘Power Games’ article.
New Zealanders should take this as a warning that the ballot box is being bypassed, says Ellis. He also warns that when the PC proponents have stamped their mark on the judiciary, bureaucracies, the civil service, the universities, the public sector, and so on, then voting could almost be seen as a “meaningless gesture”.
So how do supposedly ‘democratic’ societies relinquish power to their political leaders and let them get away with pushing their own agendas?
“When people are comfortable and prosperous they’re prepared to concede to feminists and all the rest of them – let them get on with their silly, stupid games. In times of economic hardship though, they are more likely to say, ‘I’m not letting my tax dollars go to fund whole-food feminist collectives, no chance. You want to play those games then you fund them with your own money and good luck to you.’ In times of economic downturn I think people are far more likely to object,” says Ellis.
If he is right, then presumably, when the economy starts to falter, voters would put an end to what National calls “TPK (Te Puni Kokiri Maori development ministry) officials [driving] around the country writing out cheques at will…grants for break-dancing and family reunions”.
To date almost 2500 grants, ranging in value from $500 to over $100,000, have been handed out under the Labour Government’s programme formerly known as Closing the Gaps. New Zealand also has numerous other policies that now parallel the Americans’ Affirmative Action dictum – a means of rectifying the wrongs of their past.
Ellis believes that if the PC movement is allowed to role on unchecked then race relations will collapse and he highlights the United States as an example of where racial tolerance, primarily between blacks and whites, is probably as bad now and perhaps even worse than it was during the 1960s.
For some time American universities have had strict quotas that set aside places for black students. Now though, several students are filing lawsuits against some higher education institutions because, though they have high enough marks, they are being denied a place in their chosen university because the quotas have been met for white students.
Affirmative Action was never supposed to be a permanent institution, but speaking from his experience of lecturing in the US, Ellis says it has now become deeply rooted in the American cultural sphere.
He says Affirmative Action is intellectually incoherent and fundamentally immoral – it persecutes talented, hardworking people and all admission processes for universities should be absolutely colour-blind.
In some instances it has backfired because, he says, particularly successful and hardworking black individuals are automatically suspected of being Affirmative Action beneficiaries.
This is exactly the type of divisiveness and inequality that some in this country, most vocally English and Peters, are trying to advise New Zealanders about. And though Ellis has an unapologetic right-wing (some would argue hard-line) stance, the warnings he brings from overseas appear to fly in the face of this government’s current direction.
Even the Governor General, Dame Silvia Cartwright, drifted into political territory in her last Waitangi Day speech. She advised New Zealanders not to try to become “one people…because we do not need to be”.
“What we need to do is live together and play together as fellow human beings, recognising that we are a nation of a variety of races.”
That is certainly a cordial notion but some critics wonder how we are supposed to “play together” when the playing field is not particularly even. Just ask Martin Crowe. He retired battered and bruised after commenting that not many Maori play cricket because they don’t have the temperament for the game. It was a bit naive of him to think he could play such a straight shot these days and not consider that the delivery would jag back so viciously.
Apparently, we were told in the ensuing row, it is the fault of the Pakeha for not making the game more attractive and accessible to Maori.
No, it just isn’t cricket anymore. Some say that Team PC have not only changed the rules, but they’ve doctored the ball too.