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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 96

Maxim Institute

real issues.
this week: No. Ninety-Six 5 FEBRUARY 2004

* Special rights for Maori - and the UDHR

* Smacking law - Canada goes against the tide

* The Janet Jackson show - beauty or the beast?

* An Invitation - Maxim Institute Forum 2004
Political Correctness: end of an error?

Special rights for Maori - and the UDHR


Don Brash's Orewa speech has sparked discussion about Maori rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), written in 1948, assumed that human rights are universal. They apply to everyone equally. They are not a means to right past wrongs but to prevent future ones.

If some Maori have been treated unjustly by the state in the past - and they have - those injustices must be put right. The Waitangi Tribunal was established to achieve that. But we still have a problem. Human rights theory has become about the protection of groups, particularly if a group is believed to have suffered past injustices. The Prime Minister adopts this position in an article on the Treaty in The Press (19 February).

The traditional view, and certainly Dr Brash's view, is that the law is about protecting individuals. For hundreds of years that has been the basis of common law. The Prime Minister confuses individual equality before the law with group identification. Dr Brash, following his understanding of law, claims that people in need are more justly treated as individuals than members of a group.

Underlying the debate between the leaders is a huge philosophic and legal problem. Groups are political constructs. Group identities might seem real enough, but they are shadowy formulations and deeply at odds with our cultural imperative to treat individuals as individuals, regardless of their ethnic background. The fixation with "group identity" is, in fact, an attempt to create a different kind of society - one where dignity resides in group identity rather than in our understanding of common humanity as envisaged in the UDHR.

Smacking law - Canada goes against the tide


Canada, one of the most politically correct of all English-speaking nations, will still allow its parents and teachers to smack naughty children. In a recent 6-3 judgement, Canada's Supreme Court chose to retain a 100-year old law that permits smacking. The judges said it was reasonable to use corporal punishment on children, except teenagers and those under two.

What is so compelling about the Canadian decision is that it defies the pervasive international discussion by experts on children's rights, currently so prevalent in New Zealand. Maxim is sceptical about much of this discussion, as too often these "rights" are asserted against those of the family.

Children, of course, do have certain rights, and the primary one is the right to a strong, functional family. Preferring parents over experts is a conviction based on a simple, frequently overlooked reality-nearly all parents love their children. Very few experts love, or can love, most of the children in their care.

Parents have a long-term emotional, open-ended commitment to their children. By definition, the parent is well ahead of the expert in sheer knowledge of their child's needs, character and history.

Let us hope that as we approach discussion of the Care of Children Bill and the proposed Civil Union Bill that the above obvious realities are the foundation - not the continuing disconnection of children's rights from their mother and father.

The Janet Jackson Show: beauty or the beast?


The exposure of singer Janet Jackson's breast on MTV during a football game's half-time entertainment is hardly the depth of depravity, but it has created a furore in the United States. It appears to have become the catalyst for growing public discontent with declining standards on television and the media's desire to shock and continuously break barriers of taste and decency.

Do the "moralisers" have a case? They do, and it is profoundly significant to New Zealand. Art has always explored the sublime (beauty), the pathetic (pity) and the grotesque (distortion of the sublime). In any civil society worthy of the name, the proper response of citizens to the sublime is awe and wonder, at the pathetic we weep. Faced with the grotesque, the most productive response is fear, as we intuitively know it contains the seeds of destruction. In a healthy society, art explores all three. But the emphasis now is overwhelmingly on the grotesque, not so much to warn us as to fascinate us. We now admire the grotesque, even worship it. That is not a good look in any society.

But it's worse than that. Art has always been a teacher. And when the teacher preoccupies herself with the grotesque, the consequent outcome must be an exchange of beauty for the beast.

An Invitation - Maxim Institute Forum 2004

Political Correctness: end of an error?


The debate over PC, whether in the universities or in the public square, is a controversy central to an understanding of who we are. Promoters of a PC agenda seek to control society and culture through engineering "acceptable" language and thought. Opponents are labelled sexist, racist and homophobic. They in turn see and fear a tyranny of PC "do-gooders" and a threat to free speech. PC is the battleground that shapes the cultural war. The Maxim Institute Forum 2004 will explore the implications of this struggle on New Zealand society.

Join us for a day that will inform and inspire you! Christchurch, 20 March and Auckland 27 March.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Warren Christopher 1925


Sometimes you have to learn to give the right answer to the wrong question.

To subscribe send a blank email to: realissues@maxim.org.nz

Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.

Key principles - The Building Blocks of Civil Society http://www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/about_page/about_keyprinciples.html


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