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Upton-on-line: Special Recycled Arguments Issue


Diaspora Edition - Special Recycled Arguments Issue

20th March 2005

In this issue:

The OECD’s survey of expatriate skills sparks a predictable debate; Chris Laidlaw and Jim Hopkins adopt a novel and unpredictable way of injecting new life into the old republican cause; and Bernard Cadogan challenges constitutional commentators to lift their game.

The brain drain makes its annual reappearance

Data from the OECD where upton-on-line is based appears to have fuelled a new round of national angst about the number of allegedly skilled kiwis domiciled abroad. Fortunately for everyone, these people seem to take themselves less seriously than some of those who claim to be gravely concerned by this overly qualified wanderlust. At least that’s the impression gained from even a superficial reading of the ensuing ‘blog-burst’ that cyber-observatories have been monitoring since the New Zealand Herald first broke the story in its issue of March 12th.

Upton-on-line liked in particular the worldly ambivalence of one fellow diasporan, Johnny Ellis, whose antidote to all the shock horror was probably pretty representative of many:

“I'm a teacher in Hong Kong and read your entry on the Herald's expat survey. Although I haven't read the Herald piece, the tone you relate from it is consistent with the generally expat frame of mind - that 'we' are so much better off and so much the wiser for having had the gumption and ability to leave NZ. This is tempered, of course, with recollections of barbecues, lawn mowers and scrum-wide supermarket aisles.

“It's part of living away from NZ, though, that you have to have justification for doing so. Like conscientious objectors and soccer players, expats feel the need to explain themselves. That pay packets in the places kiwis leave for are large provides a good deal of that justification.

“I'd like to remove myself from this shallow picture of rationalising venality, but as a teacher, the benefits for me of leaving NZ were compelling enough, just like everyone else who leaves”

Fair enough. Those who think there’s a crisis to be milked might do well to spend an hour or two trawling through the off-shore reactions that have been posted to these figures. They might also do well to have a look at the range of data released by the OECD in deciding whether this story is quite as alarming as it may seem. (The full report is entitled Trends in International Migration, OECD 2004)

While it’s true that 24.2% of New Zealand’s graduate population is abroad, Ireland – one of the flavour-of-the-month economies for those who seek to draw unfavourable conclusions about New Zealand – counts an identical percentage of its highly skilled population off-shore. (And its total expatriate population as a percentage of national population is 23% - well above New Zealand’s 16%). Is there something about small island countries that propel their people to travel? Upton-on-line can think of a few and they’re not all to do with earnings and tax rates.

On the other side of the equation, New Zealand seems quite good at attracting tertiary educated immigrants (indeed its entire immigration policy is skewed to do this). The OECD figures show a native born tertiary educated population of 521,349 to which must be added a further 170,082 foreign born tertiary educated residents (these figures by the way relate to 2002 data ). In this respect, New Zealand joins countries like Australia, Switzerland and Canada in having over 20% of its highly skilled workforce sourced from migration.

If you just look at the movement of highly skilled workers between the OECD economies, only the United States, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg and Norway (in that order) have more highly skilled workers from other rich countries than they have expatriate graduates. The UK, for example, has 700,000 more highly skilled expatriates than it has highly skilled immigrants from other OECD countries (like New Zealand).

The really interesting graphic to look at is Figure II.3 on p 126 of the report which displays the balance between immigration and emigration of highly skilled workers by country. The economies with big net gains hoovering up the skills are, predictably, the United States, Canada and Australia. Predictably, because these are the settlement/immigration societies par excellence. But there are big net gains also in France, Germany and Spain. It is Australia’s performance that, for its population size, stands out.

Ventilating the hothouse

Whether New Zealand’s off-shore stock of skills represents a loss, an asset or neither is not susceptible to any one-line conclusion. The optimists maintain that it is a testament to the robustness of New Zealand’s education system, evidence of the openness and globalization of the kiwi population and healthy insurance (assuming they return one day) against the build-up of parochial attitudes in our isolated hothouse. The pessimists maintain that the diaspora is proof that the hothouse has become insufferable and that the world’s business and academic capitals have become colonized with exiled kiwis sighing wistfully for their lost home as they mournfully contemplate a yawning chasm of mountainous taxes and paltry incomes.

Which leads upton-on-line to urge New Zealand commentators to look again at what the diasporan bloggers are saying. By and large they don’t bear out the doomsayers. And what about this diasporan? Upton-on-line has no insights that merit more attention than those of others. People’s reasons for emigrating are too numerous and too personal for individuals to say anything compelling. (There’s a rich opportunity for some serious research here, however.) But for what it’s worth, upton-on-line did identify with one of the diasporans quoted in the original Herald article, Hamish McMaster, a behavioural psychologist with Deloittes in Boston. Here’s what he had to say about being able to swap notes with colleagues over lunch at a Harvard conference:

"You couldn't really do this in New Zealand. You're isolated from ideas, both in terms of time and getting face to face with people."

And if he were to return home, something he says he would consider doing?

"The reasons would be 99 per cent professional. Pay rates aren't really the thing. If I can do some interesting behavioural psychology in New Zealand then I'll go back.”

There is a lot in this. An ideological prescription that taxes and incomes are all that make the difference is just so unsatisfying. Of course these things are important, but all taxes and all incomes being equal, the odds still lie pretty heavily stacked in favour of the big, human capital rich populations of the northern hemisphere (and their Australian metropolitan outposts). Those who believe the income gap between New Zealand and the rest of the rich world is simply a question of policy failure overlook simple human factors such as proximity to people and the richness of intellectual exchange that these societies offer. Of course there are trade-offs. All those well-informed conversations - whether in formal conclave or over lunch – carry with them exposure to high levels of airborne particulate in the streets and beaches thick with sun-starved Scandinavians. But you can’t have everything.

If political leaders want to help, they might think about the way in which the investments of taxpayers’ funds that they make (or advocate from opposition) contribute to the richness of intellectual life. Whether it is research and education, or just the seriousness with which public debates are prosecuted, tertiary qualified kiwis (and plenty of non-tertiary qualified ones too!) will certainly be influenced by the extent to which New Zealand is a place where ideas and information are truly valued.

Upton-on-line was not being even slightly tongue-in-cheek in suggesting in the last issue that some rich diasporan might consider publishing a serious newspaper in New Zealand. For, notwithstanding easy electronic access to global news and information, the physical absence of the papers that get read because they just arrive on the desk does make a difference. So do the relatively small numbers whom the Hamish McMasters of this world can nobble over coffee. Wellington will never be San Francisco and Dunedin will never be Heidelberg. But the gap between them could perhaps be made to feel less forbidding.

The great Pinot Noir flavoured constitutional raspberry

Off-shore readers (and whatever percentage of the 75% tertiary educated kiwis who have stayed at home but have stopped reading newspapers) will surely be fascinated by the strangest twist to date in New Zealand’s lethargic attempts to have a debate about the monarchy. It’s a debate that recurs a bit like facial eczema. When the political spore count crosses some mysterious threshold, two dyspeptic camps come to life. Symptoms appear in a reasonably predictable sequence – florid rings of republican fervour are followed by an allergic response from the royalist camp. Secondary infections of constitutional reformism are common but systemic apathy usually overwhelms enthusiasts for change and the status quo is restored.

The Prince of Wales’ recent visit seems to have spawned another outbreak. But instead of being terminally boring, this one has been unusually funny. Tired of running the usual arguments, key proponents have chosen fantasy as a far more powerful weapon. It all started when Chris Laidlaw published a piece in The New Zealand Herald of 8th March in which he purported to report a conversation with the Prince back in 1997. It was an hilariously comic sketch that only the most straight-laced and humourless New Zealander could have taken at face value. A few paragraphs will quickly give the flavour:

“A dinner had been arranged in Christchurch for [the Prince of Wales] to meet a variety of outdoor-oriented people, mainly Canterbury farming grandees and captains of local agro-industries. I was included as a conservationist.

The conversation was not scintillating. Not even the best of Canterbury's new pinot noir could liven it up, although I noticed the Prince of Wales was downing more than his fair share.

Pretty soon I was able to engage Charles in what amounted to a private conversation and I steered the subject round to constitutional matters.

Because he seemed to be particularly open and affable I asked him what his reaction would be if, as King, he was told that New Zealand wished to remove him as Head of State and become a republic. One eyebrow shot up. Had I gone too far?

"I take it you assume that will inevitably happen," he replied, with just the hint of a wry smile.

"I do, and I support it," I said.

"Well, to be frank, I think it would come as a great relief to all of us," said Charles. "It would remove the awful ambiguity we have at the moment. It seems to me that it would be a lot easier for everybody if you all had your own completely independent head of state.”

Readers will have immediately spotted the wild implausibility of any such conversation ever having taken place. Upton-on-line strongly commends the full article as a classic of its genre. Mr Laidlaw is a skilled humorist and this flight of fancy has all the zany qualities of Black Adder crossed with Gandolph. Which, come to think of it, is also a pretty fair way of describing New Zealand’s very own Jim Hopkins. A regular Herald correspondent these days, Hopkins used his subsequent column (March 11th) to deliver a pretend broadside to someone who is clearly a close pal. Again, a short extract will provide all the incentive readers need to checkout the full piece on the Herald’s website:

“I, too, suddenly recall - with almost fictional clarity - a conversation I had with BPC some 27 years ago - although it still seems like yesterday.

We were at a dinner in the Dargaville Pipe Band Hall held to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the War of Jenkins' Ear. Spotting the Prince sloshing down vast quantities of medicinal stout, I slipped over for a natter. Nothing obsequious or dreary, you understand. I didn't want to sound like a conservationist. So I chose my opening remarks carefully.

"What ho, old fruit," I said, much as I imagined Prince Philip might when he greeted Ma'am over a light breakfast of jugged fox and kippers. "What ho, old fruit. How's it hangin'?"

Being an excellent judge of character, much like Mr Laidlow, I could see immediately that I'd struck a chord. As soon as he heard my greeting, the Prince closed his eyes and sighed deeply, indicating how much he appreciated the thoughtful way I'd evoked fond memories of loved ones in the palace.

As for my second remark - "How's it hanging?" - it was clear this insouciant piece of street jive puzzled the Prince. Well, it's not the sort of thing royals say. In olden days, they often said, "Who are we hanging?" but they don't say "How's it hanging?"

Still, the Prince's response was most cordial. "I'm sorry," he said. "You'll have to excuse me. I must attend an execution."

"Some wretched republican?" I inquired.

"Not at all," he replied courteously. "Just some rude git who's trying to use a private conversation to score a public point."

Upton-on-line has no doubt that Messrs Laidlaw and Hopkins will be enjoying many a chortle over this braised raspberry of a fantasy with pinot-infused inflections followed by a mock riposte that exhales all the earthiness of the Canterbury vernacular.

But ingenious though the idea is of harnessing humour to the task of constitutional upheaval, upton-on-line thinks the strategy has in-built limits. There just aren’t enough funny people to sweep the monarchy away. If there were, we might all prefer to hang on to it as an antidote to the boredom induced by republicanism’s usual cheer-leaders.

It was a nice try, but upton-on-line considers that Chris Laidlaw wields a trustier weapon by promoting republicanism of the po-faced variety. Constitutional change through somnolence is much more the New Zealand way. But just before you settle back comfortably, upton-on-line has come across an altogether more demanding critique that could just jolt us into a better quality of debate. Rather than imagined, private, after-dinner conversations, this contributor chose a public, after lunch address to launch a different line of thinking.

Cadogan on constitutionalism

Upton-on-line does not often surrender the pen (or in this case the clavier) but his distance from the constitutional debate unfolding in New Zealand makes any personal commentary a risky business. But as luck would have it this publication has come across a rather superior piece of analysis by someone much closer to ground zero – Bernard Cadogan. Mr Cadogan has once before made an appearance in upton-on-line though in shorter form than this issue. He is a scholar currently completing a book and a thesis at Oxford on Governor Grey – but to characterise his field of enquiry in that way is a bit like describing Winston Churchill as an able mid-twentieth century landscape painter. In short, Cadogan is using Grey as a lens through whom access is gained to the entire space-time continuum of nineteenth century intellectual history.

Mr Cadogan’s grasp of his territory brings together a rare mix of macro theory and minute personal nuances. It’s like being an expert in both quantum physics and butterflies with the result that more often than not Mr Cadogan can excite the feeling that he is within striking distance of the careless cabbage butterfly that will cause the end of the universe. A clever university administrator would nab Mr Cadogan, chain him in a cell until he had metamorphosed himself into Dr Cadogan, and then immediately install him in a specially created chair of colonial studies. Accepting that this is an heroically unrealistic prospect given the ever risk-averse nature of academic appointments, the best upton-on-line can do is share Mr Cadogan’s recent address to a Dunedin Rotary Club meeting with a wider audience.

To upton-on-line’s mind, there is something deliciously ironic that the often patronised milieu of a provincial Rotary Club can provide a better platform for a contribution of this calibre than the monastically self-referential world of academia. But one warning: readers should not be tempted to engage Mr Cadogan directly. He is a cunning tactician and the address that follows is a masterpiece of deception in leaving no trace of self-important learning. Contact Mr Cadogan directly and you risk triggering an avalanche that will leave you buried under several metres of Gadamer, Dworkin, and Pocock not to mention a slew of long forgotten theorists of Spanish colonisation. You have been warned.

Here is what Mr Cadogan says – followed by a bit of a quibble from upton-on-line:

I would like to review the “Insight” Programme discussion on the monarchy last Thursday night. Before I do so I would like to begin with a few propositions about New Zealand.

New Zealand, regardless of whether it remains with the monarchy or becomes a republic, is first and foremost a democracy, and has been so for over four generations.

New Zealand does not just have democracy but its real designation is that it is a democracy.

New Zealand has been the best democracy there is, over that time.

New Zealanders have pioneered and sustained quite radical democratic institutions.

New Zealanders have sustained a democracy that lacks the intricate in-built checks and balances that comparable nation-states have contrived to thwart and check the will of the people.

I see this as a credit to us, something unique and marvellous about our democracy, rather than something to criticise or condemn. It incentivises participants in public debate to talk with their fellow citizens, rather than work their ways through the corridors and labyrinths of counterbalancing institutions.

The NZ constitution isn't an antique 18th century clock like the American, the British or the French versions; it is the product of vigorous 19th century popularism that attained its ends constitutionally. As such it functions rather like a Zip water heater; it boils away, makes a lot of noise and relies on a thermostat to calm down.

New Zealand democracy is premised on trust in the people. With us, unlike the Americans, it’s not “In God we Trust”, but surely “In the People we Trust”.

An exceptional attribute of our democracy is that early on the First Nation of New Zealand, a non-white ethnic minority, was included in the citizenship of what was then a white settler state, and that we moved on after to develop a fully inclusive New Zealand citizenship, while comparable nations were depending on systems of comprehensive segregation and of civic exclusion.

The Maori Rights Act of 1865 and the Maori Representation act of 1867 not only predated the much trumpeted 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution; they weren’t the dead letter that the Amendment was in many parts of America when I was born. We don’t need lessons in “Free-dom” from anybody.

The upshot of all this was that by the beginning of the 20th century, we were the only nation on Earth whose constituent peoples shared a universal franchise regardless of race or gender, and to start practising the new inclusive democracy of the modern era.

Whereas other nations with historically organised ethnic minorities have almost invariably descended into political violence, bombing campaigns, assassinations and kidnappings, Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders have done more than keep the peace, despite the bitter grief and anger from the Land Wars. They have gone and fashioned a citizenship that is an example to the world which is even stronger in 2005, when we are talking about tough-stuff and considering our constitutional arrangements, than in the illusory years of the halcyon 1950s and 1960s when it seemed that we had solved everything and that nothing could disturb us.

Just as it is right that we should gather each ANZAC Day to reject the militarism previous New Zealanders fought against, so should we also take time on other occasions to recall the Land Wars, and whether we as Maori or Pakeha, renounce attitudes and political behaviour that would compromise the New Zealand citizenship we have made for ourselves.

Charity begins at home, and we do have to face up to our colonial past if we are to move on from it. We aren’t living on a space station or in an airport terminal. We have deep community in our nation and that community has a past. That past is more of a rich heritage, a bequest, than a burden.

What's also exceptional to our achievement as a people is how much we take it for granted. We don't place our hands on our hearts, we don't wear our hearts on our sleeves, and we don't make a religion out of our nation and its institutions. Our democracy is essentially too healthy for us to do that. It's surely pathological when a nation has to sacralise itself.

That leads me to affirm that the constitutional order that people are talking about now is about your constitution. Yes, a New Zealand constitution exists, in various statutes, in the institutions and conventions of government, and it doesn’t belong to coteries of experts, or to mobs of fanatics, or to know-it-all cranks, but to you and to no one else.

It’s up to you within the terms of the law to do with it as you judge best. If liberty is the slow fruit of ages, then we plucked that long ago.

I am entirely confident that you will get it right, that the quality of our democracy is such, that anyone in good faith can put a well-argued and fair-minded proposition to the New Zealand public, and that you will make the right decision on the basis of the information presented to you.

Constitutionalism is not an esoteric game to be played by pundits. There is no judge of any court in this country for all his or her intellect and learning who cannot be overmatched for intelligence and common sense and life experience by the aggregate wisdom of judgment of 12 honest women and men in a jury. There is no professor or scholar in this country who is so learned that he needs not refer to yourselves and trust your good judgement.

The New Zealand electorate is such a jury, a jury of 3 million, and the New Zealand public is the readership and audience to whom this debate must be constantly referred. In my experience of politics and scholarship, I am convinced that there is no argument, no matter how abstruse, that you are unable to consider fair-mindedly and arrive at a reasonable decision for yourselves.

You must feel at times that this is all a one-way process, that experts and people with vested interests are talking at you, or worse still, you are fed up with being talked over or around as if you did not exist, as if you did not require the trust that is mandatory in any civic discussion in our democracy.

This won’t be the case if you insist at all times that the debate is referred to yourselves and take a lively interest in it. The response to the phone-in poll during the “Insight” discussion, with about 9000 people ringing in to vote shows that you are very present and that you are listening to every word that is being said.

Constitutionalism isn’t the preserve of experts. It doesn’t require formidable learning or freakish intelligence or perverse bloody-mindedness to follow. It is about the Common Good, our Public Good, our Common Weal in Tudor English; and a Commonwealth was the Tudor English translation of the Latin Res Publica.

I consider that the Insight Programme last Thursday served the Public Good extremely well in kick-starting the debate.

Like a good game of rugby, it warrants a commentary. The following features of the audience and panel debate struck me as noteworthy.

While the phone-in poll found against the Prince of Wales becoming King of New Zealand, I would easily award the debate in the studio to the monarchists. There was a disjuncture between the public mood and the on-screen proponents of a republic, even though they were supposed to be on the same side.

The monarchists had internalised the language for monarchy. They were the better debaters, and were constantly able to score points against their republican opponents. They knew their stuff.

The Republicans were surprisingly weak both in their arguments and in their responses to debate. They were assuming an authority and self-evidentness that they can't yet rely on.

The discussion boiled down to two mantras which both sides cheerfully reiterated at each other, which were the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” of the monarchists, and the “It’s time we left Mother, it’s time we left Home” formulation of the republicans.

The monarchists affirmed that the Crown is precisely what is needed to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi and indigenous rights in New Zealand. I think that this needed to be said, because however we designate our Head of State, the Treaty and indigenous rights issues will always remain central to New Zealand. A republic cannot be a repudiation of these responsibilities. We cannot do what the South Africans did in 1960 and what the white Rhodesians did in 1965 by breaking from the monarchy. That would be a revolutionary denial of our own past and of our common citizenship.

We are still smouldering and paying for from the last such binge of denial in the 1860s.

The Republicans failed to give a coherent view of the Treaty in a New Zealand Republic. Yet enough has been published on precisely how the Treaty and indigenous rights would be translated from one order to the other.

The Republicans failed to define what a New Zealand Republic would really be like. New Zealand is a parliamentary democracy with a head of state possessing reserve powers, so we are not likely to become a presidential republic of any kind, whether the United States, France, Mexico or South Africa.

As it was, Ron Mark after a piece of George Bush-bashing that would have done credit to Michael Moore, was able to get away with making the American Republic the model for a New Zealand Republic, which he then proceeded to argue against.

In my opinion the Republicans talked down to the audience and to the television public. They were either lecturing or prophesying a fait accompli. They were lumbering about like iron-clads, trying to meet objections.

The intellectual nadir of the debate occurred when the Republican lines broke and one of their spokesmen was reduced to making the plea that it was unfair for the substantial minority of New Zealanders who are republicans, not to have a New Zealand Head of State.

We are not talking about civic rights for minority groups here. We are not talking about "identity politics". It is sad when a cause that could embrace the entire nation and define New Zealand for the 21st century is reduced to the demands of a sect or community sector. How can we build a nation on that basis?

It does a profound disservice to the debate for republicanism to make opponents sound anti-democratic, and anti-New Zealand. If you distrust and fear and suspect the people, you are going to talk down to them or at them or engage with them univocally if at all. What we are seeing here is the on-going failure of the New Zealand intelligentsia to give constructive leadership.

As for their mantra, that “it’s time we left home”, we have been a vigorous democracy from well beyond living memory. We have been a self-governing nation-state since Seddon’s time, regardless of whether we were in an imperial context or not. It's not a case of adolescents leaving home, but a case of grown adults being proud and fond of their mother. But there will come a day when distant cousins will be there in her place, and they won't know us and we won't know them, and we will be strangers to each other.

Britain, its social structure and the monarchy itself are undergoing profound change. It is not longer the absolutely united United Kingdom it was when New Zealand was founded and from which it took the imprint. That united United Kingdom didn't exist before 1801, it didn't exist after 1922 when there were two Irelands and it doesn't exist now with devolution. It was just a moment in the wider scheme of British history, and it has passed. Britain and New Zealand are fast drifting apart. The British just don’t know why and where we fit in anymore.

When I was 7, and was first taught the meaning of Gallipoli, I was not told that the New Zealanders who fell there had died for the Empire, but that they had fought for democracy, for New Zealand democracy, against a military power-state.

We left “Home” long ago and if we chose to associate with a parent state and its monarchy from which we derive our institutions and the Treaty, it’s on our own terms and because we wanted to do so. Those men who went into battle at ANZAC Cove did not do so because they were the civic counterparts of underage minors but because they saw themselves as the citizens of an adult nation.

What people who dispute this fail to understand is that the essential good we derived from Britain wasn’t geo-political tutelage, or only imperial preference for our primary produce, but an entire civilisation that transcends any one nation state in the modern Anglo-American world. And it’s from what we have inherited and out of what we have kept alive from that global civilisation, that we will find the languages for constitutionalism and the intellectual resources to fair-mindedly discuss our national institutions.

I deplore it when people tell us not be "Eurocentric". The fact is that we are not going to find a uniquely New Zealand language for our constitution. We are not going to come up with a one-out of-the-box polity like the Swiss. It is perilous to imitate alien models without understanding the political anthropology that underlies them. We must use the wisdom of the ages, the best practice of kindred nations to express ourselves, whatever we decide.

What intellectuals and academics are not contributing to our New Zealand debate is the rich lore of political thought that a great New Zealander like John Pocock has expounded at Johns Hopkins for decades now or Quentin Skinner has propounded at Cambridge. The master-scripts and meta-narratives for New Zealand's identity won't come from the intellectual equivalent of tariff barriers and trade protection that shut out the wider civilisation we belong to. We are not making an Iranian nuclear programme here.

It is good to watch Coronation Street and it’s OK to read and talk about Quentin Skinner. A civilisation is the higher term of a nation-state and all we are doing is affiliating to what we like in the wider Anglo-American world, and appropriating what’s our own.

Republicans then have to improve their game.

I consider that the monarchists had the advantage of a cogent language which they all knew in depth. The problem with their language is that it is basically archaic and tautological; its premises predict its conclusions, and what we heard was an argument deployed round and round in a figure–eight railway track in a series of non-sequiturs that deny real-time development in the future and ignore historical change altogether.

If we are to believe them, the monarchy is so atemporal, so eternal and so sovereign as to be as unchanging as God himself is, while New Zealand is cast in such a flux of time that it requires an unmoved mover as a reference point. But the monarchy too is subject to profound historical change. It is changing at the rate of knots compared with the Japanese Emperorship, the Papacy or even the US Presidency. Even the New Zealand Prime Ministership as an institution has changed less since the age of King Dick and King Edward VII.

Both the monarchist and republican arguments were presented in classical terms with little reference apart from the Treaty to actual New Zealand life. The debate was couched in the language and concepts of the late 19th century. Both monarchies and republics have moved on since then.

For example, as I have said today, I trust the sovereign people I share my New Zealand citizenship with, and I don’t require a circuit connector in the form of a monarchy to protect me or any other citizens’ rights from yourselves and from the sovereignty of the people.

Along with the remedies that the Law provides, the best protection for the rights of any minority in a democracy such as ours is the goodwill and support of the informed majoritarian community. This is something we do very well and if our democracy isn't healthy, then no amount of clever institutional checks and balances will avail.

I suggest that both the monarchists and the republicans suffer from the sheer success of The Queen. She may not be as eponymous as Queen Victoria or the Emperor Franz-Josef in summing up generations of human time for whole nations, but she has been an exemplary Head of State, the very benchmark of what a New Zealand Head of State should be. We owe her the respect we would give a New Zealand Head of State if and when that time comes. We are not Americans or Australians with hang-ups about monarchy.

The Queen has arguably remained New Zealand’s best friend in modern Britain. Queen Elizabeth may well be distinguished for reigning inimitably as the one and only Queen of New Zealand.

Britain is undergoing profound social change. It is reconfiguring itself internally through devolution and other constitutional initiatives, reconfiguring itself in relation to the EU, and its traditional class-system has made way to a new social mobility and individualism. They are going through a rich and fascinating national identity debate like we are.

What many Britons think in their hearts is that the institution of the monarchy is primarily theirs, and that it belongs to 60 millions of them rather than 4 millions of us. Which is fair enough. One monarchical republic outvotes the other.

It's not as if we can now do what the Norwegians did 100 years ago by acquiring and naturalising their own Royal House. Norway has had the most excellent kings, Haakon VII, Olav V and now Harald V, kings whom we would respect too if they were ours. They would have made good kings of New Zealand, as they were Anglophone Danes in origin, descended from the British Royal Family as the British Royal Family is descended from them several times.

But the British Crown was imperial, one and indivisible. We identified with the Empire, and accepted a unitarian definition of monarchical legitimacy but we are now living in 2005 not 1905. And what we wanted was an "Emperor-over-the-Sea", to be "Men of Gondor", for there to be a king notionally, but not to have to actually live with or under him.

Whether we retain the monarchy or go for a republic, we are going to have to develop our own sense of ultimate legitimacy for our constitutional order, and that is the exciting challenge that this debate presents us.

This is an artful - one might even venture, cunning – piece. A couple of years ago upton-on-line was rash enough to suggest to the second (and probably last) Knowledge Wave conference that New Zealand had to invent a plausible ‘story’ in which to ground its nationhood (see upton-on-line 16th March 2003 ). It was, in comparison with the Cadogan formula, a piece of crude cave art. The high priest of one of New Zealand’s enduring shrines to intellectual soundness described it as “weak”. No such charge could be levelled at Mr Cadogan.

But his is, for all that, a populist call to arms. Can we really be satisfied that ours is a democracy that “ incentivises participants in public debate to talk with their fellow citizens, rather than work their ways through the corridors and labyrinths of counterbalancing institutions.” Upton-on-line is to one side of the debate these days but he doubts that the constitutional conversation has become so rich that conflict in New Zealand politics simply melts in the face of citizen dialogue; or that there we are lacking in corridors and labyrinths. The Court of Appeal (in its Cookean formulation) has certainly had a shot at doing some counter-balancing. As for labyrinths, the trail that has led in and out of ministerial offices, the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal and rafts of tribal authorities via the offices of assorted money lenders and legal counsel is one that would required the RSPCA to intervene to save the Minotaur from malnutrition.

The question is more one of whether we have the right institutions – transparent and accountable ones that can mediate between the seductive voice of history (or histories), the incarcerating logic of legal doctrine and popular bloody-mindedness. When times are calm and boring it doesn’t much matter. But in those rare moments when the emotions of the moment look as though they could rip the fabric of the nation asunder, there’s something to be said for a place where precipitate action can be at the very least, delayed. The courts are the only such forum available and suffer not only from their monastic separation from popular sentiment but the arcane way in which applications to pull the national emergency cord have to be got up.

Upton-on-line thinks appropriately constrained and modest second chambers have more going for them than several generations of constitutional vandals have been prepared to allow. Remember, we’ve got rid of Provinces, the Legislative Council and now the Privy Council – all on the sort of cheery basis advanced by Mr Cadogan that we can trust our one-stop-shop democracy. But this quibble must wait another day. Mr Cadogan’s challenge to both sides of this debate to lift their game is timely. Perhaps there’s a University out there that might invite him to deliver an academic version complete with footnotes and arcane language so it can be taken ‘seriously’ by ‘real’ experts?

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  • The Life and Death of Democracy 

    To understand the origins of this “ecosystem emergency” we need to understand the “dominion” worldview of capitalism. A worldview can be seen as a kind of self-replicating societal mind-virus or meme perpetuating and spreading its reality and manner of seeing the world. The scientific theory of memetics helps explain the power of such memes to spread a set of ideas throughout society. As Alnoor Ladha and Martin Kirk explain, memetics is increasingly validated by various branches of science, including evolutionary theory, quantum physics, cognitive linguistics, and epigenetics.

    The dominion worldview of the current global capitalist system is based on an inherently racist and patriarchal meme inherited from the bible. In this meme, God (usually depicted as an old white guy) grants Adam (a younger white guy) “dominion” over the earth and all of nature to “control and shape it.” (God: Genesis 1:26) This meme spread was globally through the enlightenment and places both nature and non-European people (or poor people in general) as inferior beings in a hierarchical construct called the “chain of being.” 

    The logic of the capitalist system sees eternal growth and control of nature and humanity as the primary motives within a game played by rational self-serving players. However, this dominion meme underpinning capitalism is ultimately predicated on the absolute rationality and morality of the cannibalistic consumption of both natural resources and human energy. This worldview ultimately leads to a narrowly materialist and reductionist vision of “human progress” that ignores the inherent importance of human and ecological diversity and interconnection with nature. 

    This mind-virus of the capitalist project has proven so infectious that it has spread its absolute dominion over the entire planet to achieve near-absolute hegemony and catastrophic consequences for the ecosystem and indigenous peoples. As Ladha and Kirk state “in order for Christianity to become dominant, the existing pagan belief-system, with its understanding of humanity’s place within rather than above nature, had to be all but annihilated.”

    Over the latter half of the 20th and early 21st centuries, the global economy has orchestrated an unprecedented acceleration of the destruction of nature in its quest for eternal growth from ever-dwindling resources. This is simply because the rules of its operating system depend on this expansion and consumption of new territories and natural and human resources for its continued existence. However, as Ladha and Kirk outline, the exponential nature of the World Bank’s 3% global GDP growth imperative to avoid recession, means we now need over US2 trillion in growth every year “just so the entire house of cards doesn’t crumble.”

    The ever-higher levels of consumption of the commons needed to provide grist for this mill, has also given rise to an increase in authoritarianism and an associated chilling of the freedom of the press and human rights globally. A fierce suppression of whistleblowers, inconvenient journalists, and activists, all but ignored by the mainstream media has effectively ended the accountability of governments and businesses for this human and ecosystem devastation.

    Meanwhile, the propaganda arm of this capitalist mind-virus has entered a golden age by taking advantage of the unregulated social media frontier and the breakdown of real journalism. In this new environment, the use of memes as warfare to control, manipulate and misinform the populace to perpetuate and spread the dominion mindset has been perfected.

    What is the end game of this dominion worldview? It appears to be incapable of stopping anywhere short of the destruction of all life on Earth. As Nafeez Ahmed defines it: 

    “This is a life-destroying paradigm, a death-machine whose internal logic culminates in its own termination. It is a matrix of interlocking beliefs, values, behaviours and organisational forms which functions as a barrier, not an entry-point, to life, nature and reality.”

    The First Great Extermination

    What is the Rojava Revolution? | Accidental Anarchist

    “The future of the extraordinary feminist and democratic revolution in Rojava is now in danger. The US has announced it will withdraw its military forces from Syria, with whom the Kurdish forces have been fighting against ISIS. This will be a green light for Erdogan’s Turkey to fulfill its threats to attack Rojava and eradicate its nascent democracy. There’s never been a more important time to support Rojava. This clip from Accidental Anarchist shows why it matters.” – Carne Ross

    Watch the full movie:

    Posted by Films For Action on Saturday, 22 December 2018

    “This Is Not the Sixth Extinction. It’s the First Extermination Event. What we are witnessing is not a passive geological event but extermination by capitalism.”  

    Justin McBrien

    This increasingly aggressive search of capitalism for new territories and untapped resources has placed increasing pressure on ecosystems across the globe in what Justin McBrien terms the First Extermination Event. As McBrien says, “the great historical struggle against this extermination has been, and remains, the struggle for land and the rights of the commons.”

    Developing nations and indigenous people are at the forefront of this struggle as the commons in the global south have increasingly come under pressure from privatisation. Indigenous nations account for less than 5 percent of the global population, but are protecting 80 percent of its biodiversity. This ecological wealth is largely in the form of commonly held ecosystems such as forests, oceans, wetlands, and other wildernesses that are crucial reservoirs of biodiversity and buffers against climate change.

    Indigenous peoples and developing nations are also suffering disproportionate losses due to an increased reliance on and interconnection with the natural world. Many have already faced, or now face Cultural Extinction due to the fact that their languages, stories, religions, and customs are inextricably interconnected with the ecosystems being destroyed. Nowhere is this process more evident than in the Amazon, where Guardians such as Paulino Paulo Guajajara (above) are being killed for defending their ancestral lands from deforestation.

    Due to indebtedness and years of extractive imperialism and capitalism, these nations have minimal ability alone to resist the destruction of these commons or to fund mitigation or adaptation measures. However, they also hold the key to our survival. Unless we are prepared to aggressively challenge this destruction of the remaining commons in the developed world, our chances of preserving biodiversity and a habitable climate on this planet are slim.

    Ah… About That “Hope”?

    Tree at dawn. Image by Johannes Plenio from Pixabay

    “Hopelessness isn’t natural. It needs to be produced.” – David Graeber

    Hope and belief in a better future is an important and subversive act of defiance against the possibility-limiting paradigm of this dominant worldview. In such concerning times, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of “learned hopelessness.” However, as anthropologist David Graeber states in a recent “Tactical Briefing,” to make sense of the seeming impasse of our current situation we must realise that this feeling is the product of:

    “a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a kind of giant machine that is designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures.”

    So where is one to find hope in the face of this death machine? 

    There are plenty of indications the people have finally had enough of this worldview driving life on the planet towards extinction. Worldwide uprisings of Extinction Rebellion, the Youth Climate Marches, or other little-publicised uprisings in Ecuador, Iraq, Algeria or Lebanon are all evidence of a desire for a more equal and sustainable world. Perhaps most significant are the protests raging in Chile – the birthplace, most extreme testing ground, and now death ground? of the neoliberal project. 

    However, past uprisings teach us that in order to ensure this distributed energy succeeds in bringing about lasting change, we require a clear shared vision of the future world we seek to create. The emergent cooperatism worldview gaining traction worldwide provides such a potential framework for the more “life-affirming” future these many groups are seeking to create.

    Hope In Common 

    Protesters react as they gather during the evacuation operation by French gendarmes in the ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, near Nantes, France, April 11, 2018. Stephane Mahe

    “Every time a civilization is in crisis, there is a return of the commons”

    Michel Bauwens

    The current crisis can be seen as stemming from the failure of the dominion worldview and the increasingly strained institutions of the capitalist system to protect our environmental and social commons. One result has been a global resurgence of interest in the commons. This resurgence is underpinned by the cooperatism worldview which stands in direct contradiction to the assumptions of the dominion paradigm of global capitalism.

    As Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation summarises, “The commons are three things at the same time: a resource (shared), a community (which maintains them) and precise principles of autonomous governance (to regulate them).” This complex and inherently cooperatist nature makes the commons a powerful and popular organising system for managing natural resources and ecosystems amongst people across the world.

    This broad-based nature of the commons increases human agency by redistributing power and control over land-use decisions and favouring direct, participatory decision-making by the greatest number of people affected. The bottom-up and decentralised nature of the cooperatism worldview enables solutions and responses to environmental challenges to emerge from those most intricately familiar with particular ecosystems.

    This upsurge in the ground-up approach to land-use is evident in the many distributed, local-level collaborative initiatives taking on the guardianship and sustainable use of common lands and resources. In NZ examples include the landscape-scale community conservation literally in my own backyard in Miramar, the self-governance of Te Urewera or the granting of legal rights to the Whanganui river. Ellen Rykers’ recent article on The Dig explores the potential of the Community-centred to biodiversity action in Aotearoa.

    More ambitious commons-based approaches abroad include commons fisheries management in Kenya or Nepal’s Community-owned native forests or a plethora of tea, coffee and cacao cooperatives across the developing world. Then there is the astounding (ZAD) “Zone a Defender” – an occupied autonomous zone near Nantes, France (pictured above). Here occupiers have been conserving the forests and wetlands, collectively farming the commons and with community support, resisting forcible eviction by the police for decades. 

    Zapatista Women work on community-owned and operated farms. Tim Russo

    There are many other examples of the cooperatism approach emerging to create a parallel economy of self-governing alternatives alongside the global capitalist system. These range from small neighbourhood cooperatives and Community Land Trusts to large-scale anti-capitalist experiments like the autonomous indigenous communities of Chiapas, Mexico’s indigenous Zapatista movement.

    Such alternatives also include the occupied factories in Paraguay, Argentina or the USA, and autonomous institutes in Korea or the cooperatives, self-governed city areas, and free medical care centres formed in Greece after the recent political and economic crisis. As David Graeber says, such forms of mutual aid associations “spring up pretty much anywhere that state power and global capital seem to be temporarily looking the other way.” 

    Perhaps most inspiring of all is the success of Rojava, a self-governing, non-denominational and non-patriarchal, autonomous Kurdish region amidst the chaos of Syria. Sadly, this revolutionary “democratic confederalist” project is currently being crushed by surrounding authoritarian powers clearly threatened by the precedent it sets.

    Bringing Out The Best In Humans

    A commons-based or cooperatist approach to organising society, offers a more rational and scientifically sound way to relate to natural resources than the top-down and growth-based imperatives of the dominion worldview.

    The standard argument for the application of a dominion approach to land and resources is Garrett Hardin’s theory of “The Tragedy of the Commons.” However, Elinor Ostrom’s worldwide Nobel Economics prize-winningstudy of “common-pool resource” (CPR) groups in the ‘90s, debunked this idea entirely. Ostrom concluded that groups are capable of avoiding the tragedy of the commons without requiring top-down regulation, as long as certain “core-design conditions” are met. 

    Even that champion of neoliberal economic theory, The Economist is now on board. The September 2019 issue featured the article:“The alternatives to privatization and nationalization: More public resources could be managed as commons without much loss of efficiency.” The author cites Ostrom’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which she called on policymakers to “facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans.” 

    However, the fact is, a thermodynamics perspective actually demonstrates the commons approach is MORE energy efficient than standard methods. A research project led by the P2P Foundation on the thermodynamic efficiencies of peer production found that a transition to open and shared models can result in an 80% saving in the amount of matter and energy used in running our society.

    Hope From The Edge of the World

    April 2019 protest in Brasilia (Sergio Lima)

    “The kin networks that bind people with other living systems resonate with the science
    of complex networks, key to understanding many ‘wicked problems’ of our time…”

    Dame Anne Salmond, Gary Brierly and Dan Hikuroa.
    Let the Rivers Speak: thinking about waterways in Aotearoa New Zealand

    We can also take much inspiration from those indigenous people acting as guardians of the natural world against extermination where states and institutions have failed to do so. Examples such as the Guardians of the Amazon, Mauna Kea or Ihumātao represent a refusal to accept the arrogant and materialist dismissal by the dominion paradigm of ancient indigenous knowledge and locally-derived wisdom, democracy and sustainability. 

    Understanding the worldviews of indigenous societies offers important shifts in perspective, consciousness, and behaviour that global society needs to make urgently in order to have any chance of surviving the coming wave of ecological and social disruption. These worldviews are imbued with a deep understanding of cooperatism and shaped by long histories of using the commons as an approach to land-use and social organisation.

    Growing understanding in anthropology and archeology and the science of complex networks confirms the validity of the fundamental tenets of indigenous worldviews: 1. that cooperation is what defines us evolutionarily as a species (Graeber), and 2. that humanity and nature are inextricably interconnected (Salmond et al). Veronika Meduna previously discussed these concepts in relation to Mātauranga Māori in her article on The Dig: Kaitiakitanga: Seeing Nature as your Elder.

    We are not, as the dominion worldview of capitalism holds, hierarchical and self-serving beings governed by a “selfish gene.” For most of our history, humans have existed in a mode of cooperation and relational interconnectedness with each other and the natural world. We must all urgently remember and recreate this way of being.

    Changing Our Minds

    Roy Scott Getty Images

    “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

    George Bernard Shaw 

    Widespread adoption of a worldview grounded in Cooperatism is the fastest way to get public support for an overhaul of our approach to land-use and rapidly regenerate ecosystems. However, this is easier said than done. The theory of ‘cognitive dissonance’, holds that when reality falsifies our deepest beliefs, we’d rather tinker with the nature of our reality than update our worldview. This accounts for the growing tribalism of populist politics and the susceptibility to disinformation and narrative control that holds the status quo in place.

    Cognitive dissonance means that changing minds regarding the environment and our insane economic paradigm will not be done by using facts, statistics or rational debate to convince people of the merits of such an approach. Rather, as Maarten Van Doorn outlines, “Ideas change the world by upgrading people’s ‘normal’… by showing people what is possible, and changing their views about what is socially acceptable.”

    In short – the most effective way to change minds is to actually build the world (and worldview) of the commons all around us, making it the new normal as ordinary people rub up against it in their everyday life. Ensuring as many people as possible are able to participate in or benefit from commons-based and ground-up initiatives is one of the most powerful solutions there is to have an impact on the current crisis. 

    A Global New Deal For The Commons 

    Launch your meme boldly and see if it will replicate—just like genes replicate, and infect, and move into the organism of society… I believe these memes are the key to societal evolution. But unless the memes are released to play the game, there is no progress.

    ~ Terrence McKenna

    To have any chance of being adopted en masse, proposals for environmental action must directly benefit everyone, but especially disadvantaged communities in most need – migrants, working-class communities and developing nations. As Naomi Klein argues on The Intercept (and in her new book), if we do not link the intersecting climate, migration and social justice crises together into a holistic response, we will face a popular backlash. Klein’s astute hypothesis is that “only a Green New Deal can douse the fires of eco-fascism.”

    However, proposals for a Green New Deal and other green-growth based approaches such as New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act, simply do not go far enough. They fail to effectively challenge the core extractivist and dominion assumptions of the paradigm that has created the biodiversity crisis. Such approaches miss the point entirely unless they ensure that the basic needs of people and planet are met. The neglect of these core needs for so long by the establishment is the breeding ground for both the increased susceptibility to fascist and authoritarian memes and environmental catastrophe.

    There is an existing proposal and petition for a Global Deal for Nature, which I fully support and recommend. However, due to the importance of language and memes to changing worldviews, I still wish to launch this slightly different framing.

    So allow me to launch my meme: A Global New Deal For The Commons:

    I propose that what humanity and the planet desperately needs is a Global New Deal For The Commons. Such a deal would require a global mobilisation to ensure that the natural and cultural commons are protected and sustainable biodiversity-friendly and cooperatist land-use is adopted. If structured right, such a deal would have a massive impact towards restoring the planetary ecosystem and biodiversity, as well as healing deprived and hopeless communities everywhere in the process.

    To truly turn the biodiversity and climate crises around, this new deal needs to happen at least on a scale of wartime efforts such as the Marshall Plan of WWII or the New Deal of the Depression-era. As Rutger Bregman argues, centralised state action will be essential to any realistic efforts to drive an environmental effort on the scale required. However, I am less cynical than Bregman about the power of bottom-up efforts, and believe a properly balanced combination of the two is essential.

    A biodiversity-focused investment on this scale could combine central investment with an approach focused on catalysing, fostering, and scaling bottom-up land-use initiatives and ideas. It could prioritise local communities as workforces and support the emergence of ground-up, decentralised solutions and initiatives over centrally imposed or market-based solutions wherever possible.

    Such a new deal for the commons would require associated work on reforming land tenure and local democratic and economic institutions on a scale not attempted since the communist project. However, rather than the top-down command and control approach of communism, it would provide a framework, resources and tools for communities to re-learn how to live harmoniously with each other and with nature’s abundance. This approach could spread knowledge, technology and best practice for environmental restoration globally through open sourcing IP and implementing solidarity networks or networks of mutual aid across society.

    This new deal would also require real action on the national and global level to reform global governance and regulation and build a more just international order and institutions. This would require new agreements such as an international law of “ecocide,” and strengthened international environmental laws and enforcement mechanisms to ensure the compliance of corporations and rogue imperialist nations. This new order would also need to address debt-enslavement, eternal growth imperatives, and rebalance global wealth disparity to stop wealthy nations from shifting the impacts of growth onto vulnerable populations and ecosystems.

    However, crucially, to bring about this new order, we must find ways to continue challenging the narrow confines of permitted thought and debate keeping us locked in the destructive dominion paradigm. It would need to restore the rule of law and ensure the protection of whistleblowers, journalists, activists and politicians challenging this narrative. If not, who will hold power accountable for their inaction or blocking of real progress? Who will continue to tell the stories and defend the rights of those on the margins building the alternative futures discussed above?

    The debate around Te Koiroa o Te Koiora, and the to-be-finalised national biodiversity strategy and policy provide an excellent opportunity for New Zealand to lead the way in protecting and restoring the commons with such a new deal. There are good indications that a more community-focused approach is being considered and that more radical proposals resonated well with the public in our recent HiveMind engagement. However, we must ensure that translating this into real progress to fund and support ground-up and cooperatist environmental initiatives is seen as a priority for the Government.

    Please indicate if you agree with this statement of hope and declaration of intent here. You can also add your own statements for others to vote on if you wish: