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Let's Talk About Colonisation

Entry 2030, on 2020-03-11 at 21:52:50 (Rating 3, Politics)

A recent controversy, here in New Zealand, involved a prominent businessman, part-time politician, and essayist, Bob Jones, and his involvement with a disagreement over the consequences of the colonisation of New Zealand.

First, some background for people outside of New Zealand. New Zealand has been inhabited by the native people since about 1250 CE. The first European to "discover" this country was Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, in 1642, and this was followed by James Cook from England arriving here in 1769. Tasman was attacked by local Maori and left again, but Cook, who was also attacked, returned to England and his report eventually lead to colonisation.

After the arrival of settlers there was significant conflict, which lead to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, which theoretically settled the disagreements, made Maori British citizens, and gave the natives certain rights to their traditional lands, etc.

Since then, the apparently inevitable domination of Western culture over the traditional Maori lifestyle has resulted in repression of native rights and confiscation of lands, to some extent. New Zealand's national day, Waitangi Day, supposedly celebrates the founding of the nation, and the creation of an equal partnership. However, it usually degenerates into a series of protests by Maori groups against colonisation.

Generally the background political approach to this is to accept that Maori protests are valid, and believe that the narrative around colonisation being a disaster for indigenous people is true. Of course, there were obvious disadvantages to Maori after the arrival of settlers, but what is often ignored is the other side of this story, that is the huge advantages they have gained from colonisation.

And so we come to Bob Jone's article on this subject...

In 2018 he wrote a satirical article for the National Business Review where he called for a "Maori gratitude day" while mocking Waitangi Day. He suggested that this proposed day would offer Maori the opportunity to demonstrate gratitude for having been colonised and gaining the benefits of Western (specifically British) civilisation. Jones suggested Maori should serve white New Zealanders breakfast in bed, and weed their gardens on this day.

It was an obvious case of satire and not to be treated seriously, although the underlying issue was consequential. And he must have been aware of the response this would generate, and he wouldn't have been disappointed. A Maori theatre and film writer and director, Renae Waihi, started a campaign against Jones, resulting in the removal of the article, significant personal abuse aimed at him, and a petition to remove his knighthood signed by about 80,000 people.

She also accused him of racism, and this year Jones began a court case against Waihi, accusing her of defaming him. The case was shut down fairly quickly, apparently with the result that the defamation case would be dropped and the petition would be scrapped. So that seemed like a fair and reasonable outcome.

But looking at the bigger picture, what validity is there behind any of the political moves and counter-moves we have seen here?

I think the original article did make a point which everyone in New Zealand should consider seriously. That is, what are the overall good and bad points to colonisation for the native groups being colonised? It should have been obvious that the article was written in a way which would provoke hostility, but surely that is a satirical essayists job.

My usual approach in these cases is to imagine the situation with the sides reversed. What would have happened if a Maori writer had written a satirical piece suggesting a "national Maori appreciation day" where all descendants of colonists would be required to collect kai (food) for Maori and serve them during that day? I think there would be a bit of low level grumbling amongst some groups, but in general it would be just laughed off and we would move on.

So I think the article was justified, and I think it could have lead to an interesting discussion on the merits of colonisation. But, as I said above, supporting colonisation is unofficially not a position which can be safely held. It is a virtually guaranteed path to being shut down, abused, and generally disparaged as a racist.

But, like almost every claim of racism, that is just a way to avoid a real discussion which might not lead to the conclusions the more politically correct people in society would want to hear. So Waihi's attack on Jones is just another example of the cowardly approach many people have instead of engaging in a genuine discussion on a contentious subject.

If Waihi disagreed with Jones she should have written a response, which hopefully the National Business Review would have printed. I would suggest she write a similarly controversial satirical piece, but a serious discussion on the merits of the subject would also have been OK. But instead she took the standard route involving outrage of an oppressed minority, and an opportunity to talk about this was lost.

But then Jones himself acted like an offended snowflake and started the court case against his critic. Surely this was a bad idea because to most people it makes him (quite rightly) look as bad as the easily offended people who are his opponents.

So, as is almost always the case, this was another situation where fake outrage, cowardly political maneuvering, and knee-jerk reactions overwhelmed common sense and rationality. And that is unfortunate, although not surprising. The title of this post is "Let's Talk About Colonisation" but that really cannot be done. Sure, you can say whatever you like about the negative aspects, but listing off the positives is always going to be dangerous. So any officially sanctioned discussion isn't really "talking" about it, it is just presenting one-sided propaganda.

But I'm not scared to genuinely look at both sides. As I said above, I think there were significant benefits to Maori from colonisation, although there were undoubtedly disadvantages as well. I was going to look at these good and bad aspects in this post, but I think I have done enough covering the free speech angle instead. So maybe next time I will list off the pros and cons of colonisation. Luckily I am an obscure blogger with few snowflake followers, so I can get away with it, because most people wouldn't!

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Comment 1 (5237) by Jim on 2020-03-17 at 11:19:28:

Well I never thought I'd see the day that OJB agreed with Bob Jones! Everyone take notice.

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Comment 2 (5238) by OJB on 2020-03-17 at 14:49:25:

I think that is a bit unfair. I agree that many years ago - when I was young and naive - I probably would have viewed him, along with other figures of that type such as Don Brash, as the enemy. But I don't think that way any more - at least I try not to. Now I realise that everyone (without exception) has some ideas I like and others I don't. Look at this post and you see that I both agreed and disagreed with Jones.

And the other point is that I wrote this post to try to argue for some more balanced views on colonisation, and Jones was showing the side which is often forgotten or even condemned. So in this case his views were extremely relevant to my argument.

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