Memo from the blue gang: women aren’t citizens

The police have been telling us that they can’t proceed against the Roast Busters gang because they lacked evidence and formal complaints. If only women would come forward, then they could take action against the Roast Busters gang. But they were constrained because no young woman was brave enough to come forward. When questioned, police said that they had received no formal complaints.

They lied.

It turns out that FOUR! young women have come forward with formal complaints. And police did nothing. They allowed the young men to continue raping girls.

From the NZ Herald:

Police have confirmed they received four complaints by alleged victims of the Roast Busters group of young men, between 2011 and last year.

Until last night, police had said they had been unable to bring prosecutions against the young men because they were yet to receive a formal complaint by any victims.

Police had been monitoring the group for the last two years, who bragged online they would ply girls – some as young as 13 – with alcohol and have sex with them.

Their activities came to light this week with media reports, and the Facebook page they boasted on was shut down.

Police have now said four young women aged between 13 and 15 had come forward with complaints of a sexual nature.

There’s so much that’s wrong with what the police have failed to do in this awful case, from victim blaming, to pretending that they could do nothing, to outright lying.

And the message they are sending us? Women don’t matter.

This is deeply worrying. Our police force is an important institution in our society. We give up the right to pursue retribution and recompense ourselves, and hand it over to police, so that they will protect us. We have a contract with them, that saves us from a solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short life in the state of nature. They will act as an impartial group helping to ensure that strong people don’t prey on the weak, that each person is tolerably safe as she or he goes about their daily business, that each of us can live securely, without needing to shelter behind guns and hard fists and high fences. We live in freedom, as free citizens, because we know that our police pursue justice on our behalf, and work hard to keep us safe.

Not any more.

The loud, clear message that police have sent in the last few days in their words, and over the last two years in their actions, is that women don’t count. They count so little that even there is clear evidence of criminal activity, of young men who are over the age of consent “having sex with” girls who are well under the age of consent, they will take no action. Even worse than just taking no action, they will actively choose not to take action and leave even more young women to be raped.

The problem is large. This is not just one incident, not just one police station that has gone a little rogue. It seems to be systemic. We know this from the extraordinary difficulty that Louise Nicholas experienced in getting any kind of justice when she had been raped by police officers, and we know this from Dame Margaret Bazley’s Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct, and we know this from the repeated reports from the Auditor-General finding that the progress of police in effecting culture change is slow (one, two, three). Slow beyond all reason.

Very simply, as far as the police are concerned, it seems that women don’t count. Women are not citizens in this country.

That gives us all reason to fear. As women, what the police are telling, through their actions and their inactions, is that we ought not to bother complaining to them if we are raped or sexually assaulted. Because we don’t count.

And through all this, we must remember the young women who have been targetted and raped by this loathsome group of young men in Auckland. They have been assaulted again and again. First by the young men. Second by the police, who would not hear their complaints. Third by the knowledge that their complaints mattered so little, that police would not even take action to stop the young men from raping, even if they weren’t going to prosecute them. And fourth by the systemic injustice of police towards women, telling women that they don’t count.

So what can we do? First, to the young women who laid police complaints: may you find justice. We believe you.

Second, Scuba Nurse has some excellent suggestions about what action we can take, ranging from the small gesture of not participating in rape jokes, to donating to Rape Crisis.

Third, change the way we rear boys. Luddite Journo has some suggestions, in Growing boys, not roast busters.

Fourth, a series of protests is being planned around the country. Keep your eye out on social media for details of rallies planned for Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch on the afternoon of 16 November.

Fifth, look after yourselves. Here are some suggestions from The Wireless: A really heavy week on the internet.

Taniwha and belief

In a curiously timed release, the National Party has let us know that Labour Party leader David Shearer thinks that taniwha ought to be respected. Oh ha ha ha, isn’t he silly, etc.

The usual suspects are coming up with two lines of criticism. First, it’s absurd to believe in taniwha, and second, how come we aren’t allowed to be rude about belief in taniwha when we ridicule Christian belief all the time.

The fist criticism conflates two sets of attitudes about taniwha. One can believe in taniwha, or one can respect, or at least tolerate, other people’s belief in taniwha. Personally, I don’t believe in taniwha, or elves, or the Norse gods, or the Christian god, or all sorts of other things, but I can see that other people believe in these entities, and even more than that, that they order their lives by reference to their beliefs. So while I may not believe their belief, I’m prepared to tolerate it, to the extent that it doesn’t cause harm. That’s a fairly standard move in liberal thinking.

I’ll even go a step further than that. When it comes to many indigenous beliefs, I’ll take the view that if there is a legend or a belief about spirits, or monsters, or blessings, or whatever, then it may actually encode other important knowledge, such as hidden water currents, or seasons of the year, or degrees of genetic relationship that lead to appalling birth defects, or whatever. So there is good reason for the belief, even if the way that the reason is communicated can seem very odd to someone from a different cultural background.

Or those beliefs may encode important information about who has guardianship duties, or property rights, or ethical duties, within a particular land area, or cultural grouping, or whatever. The beliefs are a way of structuring lives. And as such, they need to be respected.

So when David Shearer says that he respects belief in taniwha, he is doing exactly what a clear thinking liberal ought to do – acknowledging the reality of the belief, and its importance, even though it may not be a belief he holds himself. It’s a straightforward difference between believing a belief, and respecting a belief, and any liberal thinker, or indeed any thinking person ought to be able to grasp the difference.

So much for the first claim.

But what about the second claim, that Maori beliefs are sacrosanct, while Christian beliefs are ridiculed?

This is simply not true. Maori beliefs are routinely trampled over in this country. Witness the current furore over taniwha.

And we pay a huge amount of respect to Christian beliefs. Christian leaders are invited to pray at our festivals, such as at Anzac Day ceremonies, we structure our work week around the Christian holy day (Sunday), we have public holidays for the two major Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter, our parliamentary sessions open with a prayer to the Christian god. If this is not respect for Christian beliefs, I don’t know what is.

David Shearer has got this one exactly right.

We are all beneficiaries of the welfare state

I have a column in the Dominion Post today.

We are all beneficiaries of the welfare state

It’s easy to criticise the welfare system. Beneficiaries get too much money, too many of them cheat, and it all costs too much. But the unrecognised reality is that our comprehensive health and welfare systems create freedom and security for us all.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to pay taxes have a straightforward reason to support the welfare state: it’s simple prudence. One day, it may be our turn to depend on the state.

Our health and welfare systems are based on need, not some notion of worthiness. If we are in need, we are entitled to assistance, and that means that we may live as free citizens. It means that we are secure from economic fear, secure from absolute want, and secure from the interference of our neighbours. That freedom and security makes all of us beneficiaries of the welfare system.

This time, I’ve outed myself as a lecturer in Taxation, and a newly joined member of the Labour Party. I’m not sure how long I’ll be welcome in the party, of course…

As ever, the subbing is by the newspaper, not by me.

You should also read Giovanni’s excellent post on this topic: The Man on the Roof

On property

Some meandering thoughts on property, for a rainy Sunday afternoon.

A fifth doctrine, that tendeth to the dissolution of a commonwealth, is, that every private man has an absolute propriety in his goods; such, as excludeth the right of the sovereign.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651, Chapter XXIX, Of those things that weaken, or tend to the dissolution of a Commonwealth.

Hobbes’ point here is simple. If any individual amasses a great amount of property, then she or he will has a base of power from which she or he can dominate others. That power base is dangerous to the state. Throughout Leviathan, Hobbes argues that in order to escape the state of nature, where life is solitary, poore, nasty, brutish and short, there must be an absolute ruler, a leviathan, who can impose law, and ensure that laws are followed. He leaves it open as to whether that leviathan is a single person, or a parliament. The essential characteristic of a leviathan is that he or she or it is untrammeled by the law, and is unthreatened by other power bases within the state. If there are other centres of power, then in time, the state, described in the quote above as a commonwealth, will crumble.

James Harrington wrote against Hobbes’ absolute monarch, and in favour of republican rule, in The Commonwealth of Oceana, published in 1656. He envisaged a parliament and regular elections and rotation of officers. Only propertied men could be citizens and vote, because they were the people who held property and so could withstand the power of government. But property holdings should be limited, so that no one person could accumulate too much power.

An equal commonwealth is such a one as is equal both in the balance or foundation, and in the superstructure; that is to say, in her Agrarian law, and in her rotation.

An equal Agrarian is a perpetual law establishing and preserving the balance of dominion by such a distribution, that no one man or number of men, within the compass of the few of aristocracy, can com to overpower the whole people by their possessions in lands.

As the Agrarian answers to the foundation, so dos rotation to the superstructures.

Equalrotation is equal vicissitude in government, or succession to magistracy confer’d for such convenient terms, enjoying equal vacations, as take in the whole body by parts, succeding others, thro the free election or suffrage of the people.

Source: Oceana

Harrington’s work is fascinating, for his alternative to Hobbes’ absolute monarch is an empire of laws, by which all are governed, including those who make the laws. His writing is however, almost unbearably turgid, so it is unsurprising that he is not much read anymore.

What I find interesting about both extracts is that both writers think that large accumulations of property are dangerous.

But some property is good! I like the reading of Chapter 5: Of Property of John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government (1689), which argues that his main aim was not to justify private property holdings for their own sake, out of some notion of ownership, but to mark out an area of life where the king, or parliament, could not intervene. Private property holdings are a way of limiting the power of government. Even then, Locke sets limits on how much property a person may take: anyone who takes land from the common for his own purposes must leave as much and as good in common for others. Locke did however think that there was limitless land available in the Americas that was not being used, or at the very least, not being used properly.*

So from three different thinkers, one who favoured absolute monarchy where there monarch stood outside the law, one who argued for republican government with the rule of law for all and an elaborate system of checks and balances, and one who argued for limited government and saw private property as a means for achieving limits on government, I read both an acknowledgement of the value of private property, and a warning about limiting the amount of property that any one person can accumulate. Too much property gives too much power.

I wrote about property and power a few months ago in an op-ed for the Dom-Post: Property divide creating second class citizens. Today’s vague meandering thoughts on the same theme started when James Battye, sometime teacher and colleague, now a friend, sent me the quote from Hobbes along with birthday wishes. What an excellent gift – something to think about.

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* Just in case, you should read this sentence imagining my voice dripping with irony and sarcasm. Locke’s was a very colonial attitude towards land possession and land use.

Citizenship and property

I have an opinion piece in the Dominion Post today.

Property divide creating second class citizens

…citizens are becoming less equal in New Zealand. In practice, unless you have property, or wealth, or a means of surviving without assistance from the state, the state feels that it is entitled to tell you how to live. It’s worth listening to the rhetoric from political parties, and seeing whose interests they want to protect, and who they think should be subject to state intervention. As it turns out, it is people without property who are told what they may spend their money on, how often they must see a doctor, and who must allow public servants to pry through their affairs. Because they have no resources, they are vulnerable to interference by the state.

On cathedrals, occupations and Machiavelli

Durham Cathedral


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Durham Cathedral is a huge grey building, set on a peninsula of land formed by a loop in the River Wear. The cathedral was built as a shrine to St Cuthbert, but due to the machinations of monks in pursuit of relics, it also houses the shrine of the Venerable Bede. I went there to pay my respects to this early historian, much as many years later, I visited Winchester Cathedral to bow my head in homage to Jane Austen.

Because it was the first medieval cathedral I ever visited, Durham Cathedral has remained in my mind. The building overwhelmed me. I was conscious not so much of any spirituality or religious community, as of the enormous concentration of wealth and power manifested in the building. It is in any case, “half church of God, half castle ‘gainst the Scot”… a massively strong building. To me, the building asserted the power of the local bishops when it was built, and the dominance of the wealthy church.

Those huge churches were, and I think still are, an affront to Christianity. If there is a core to Christian ethics, it lies in the words of the Sermon on the Mount, where followers are enjoined to set aside wealth and power in this world, and the poor and gentle and powerless are described as “blessed”. The words of The Magnificant are even more explicit.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

I find it hard to believe that the people who controlled the wealth of Durham and other great cathedrals could read those words without cringing.

When the Occupy London Stock Exchange protestors set up their camp in the grounds of St Paul’s, I wonder if they had in mind the long established link between the great churches, and big business, where the positioning of churches and cathedrals within business districts gives tacit support to extreme capitalism. Perhaps not.. it may just have been the nearest convenient open space to set up a camp. Even so, the initial response of the clergy of St Paul’s was bizarre: they wanted to evict the humble and the poor from their grounds, and defend their wealth. Their actions were ironic at best, and I think rather more accurately described as hypocritical and unchristian and money grubbing. Evidently they were worried about the tourist trade. There is of course that part in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus tells his followers not to store up treasure on earth, and that they cannot serve both god and money…

But it seems there was at least one Christian among the clergy of St Paul’s. Giles Fraser chose to resign rather than allow the City of London and Metropolitan police to evict the protestors. His resignation is not merely a stunt: he and his wife have three teenage children to support, and they must now find a new home and new jobs.

He is to be admired, not just for holding true to his own beliefs, but also for speaking truth to power. Churches which hoard wealth, and take the side of property owners and established power against the poor and vulnerable have lost their way, and have turned from the teachings of the gospels.

Machiavelli talks of the need for reform. In Discorsi, he describes the processes by which republics are established and prosper, becoming free states, within which citizens may be free. But over time, he says, alas, republics start to falter, in an inevitable cycle of decay. What is needed then is a man of great integrity and strength, who will reform the republic, and re-establish virtue, and restore the republic to its greatness. (Source – scroll to the bottom of the page.)

The established churches are perhaps too strongly integrated with the centres of power and wealth in our society to be reformed by just one man. Nevertheless, Giles Fraser has just given a very sharp lesson to the clergy of St Paul’s, and to clerics world wide. If they are not on the side of people who are poor and dispossessed, then they are not Christians at all.

A final note: one still-employed cleric has described the events at St Paul’s as a PR disaster for the church. That seems to me to be one of the churches’ major problems. The problem is not the PR, but the hypocrisy and unchristian behaviour.

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This post is written for a friend who asked me what I thought about Giles Fraser, and the occupation of St Paul’s. It is sadly overdue, because of reasons, mostly to do with work commitments which have slowed down my blogging of late. However I am very grateful to my friend for prompting me to think and write about this.

Indignation or derision?

Last week I had an opinion piece in the Dom Post, in which I argued that if the state was going to be involved in the marriage game, then it ought to make marriage available to all its citizens – gay, lesbian, straight, trans*, threesomes, foursomes, whatever.

Gay, straight, bi – marriage should be for all

The state has no business in the marriage game. It does have a legitimate interest in noting who is in a committed relationship. As a society, we want to be able to tell which people happen to be sharing accommodation as mere flatmates, and which have amalgamated their interests for the foreseeable future.

We allocate rights and responsibilities on the basis of those amalgamations, such as welfare entitlements and tax credits, and obligations to support other people. But why should the state care about whether those committed relationship households are based on male/female couples, or same-sex couples, or trios, or whatever?

It is unfair the state gives a certain status (marriage) to some households but not others. Either the recognition ought to apply to all, or none. Anything else represents the state picking and choosing among citizens, saying some are more worthy than others. That ought to be anathema in an egalitarian society.

This week, Bob McCoskrie has an opinion piece in the Dom Post, in response to mine, arguing saying something along the lines that marriage is between a man and a woman and allowing anyone else to get married would lead to children getting married to goldfish. Or bestial unions.

Gay community cannot redefine marriage

I don’t know whether to splutter in indignation, or roll around the floor laughing in derision.