sedition and dissension

An exchange of comments over at Public Address got me thinking (or thunking, at least) specifically the exchange that culminates here:

He was charged with sedition rather than threatening personal violence.

Helen Clark was Prime Minster, not a private citizen.

So, in protest at the Foreshore and Seabed legislation, somebody through an axe through Helen Clark’s office window, and was then charged with sedition.

I typed up my own comment, then something went wonky and it vanished into the ether, but that’s ok, because it was only tangentially relevant to the discussion at hand, but it’s annoying because I typed all that stuff out only for it to vanish, and it’s stuff that I find at least tangentially relevant to a lot of things happening in the world right now, both historically and currently (and if that doesn’t make much temporal sense, don’t worry, it shouldn’t). So here goes again:

  1. Violence is rarely necessary and even less often justified. This is especially true in a place like New Zealand. Having said that, throwing an axe through somebody’s window is vastly more violent than chopping down a flagpole or a prominently-planted tree or shooting or burning a flag. In other words, I don’t have much of a problem with symbolic violence that is part of a ritual discourse – or, if it’s ok for the All Blacks to perform a haka before a rugby game on the implicit understanding that they will do no more violence to their opposition than is allowed within the rules and customs of rugby, then it is ok for people to destroy political symbols on the implicit understanding that they will do no actual violence to their political opponents. So go ahead and chop down that flagpole or tree, just make sure you’re following the proper health and safety protocols so that it doesn’t fall on anybody. But putting an axe through somebody’s window? No, that is a step too far, that is threatening actual violence.
  2. Let’s be clear: Under Helen Clark, the New Zealand state did do actual violence towards marginal groups in New Zealand society. The state has done violence under all governments, and continues to do so. Much of that violence is a necessary part of ensuring the fairest deal for the largest number of people possible under the laws and customs of the day – Police arresting criminals is inherently violent, but good because allowing criminals to go free results in greater violence and a less fair society – but sometimes the violence is unnecessary and unjustified. Ideally, the state, its leaders, and its agents would be held accountable for that unnecessary, unjustified violence. The prime minister labelling people “haters and wreckers” because they express their belief that legislation her government is passing confiscates their land and restricts their right to seek redress through the courst was unnecessary and unjustified violence because she was speaking from a position of power to the powerless and she could’ve easily chosen to first listen to then negotiate with those people before passing legislation that all parties agreed was a fair compromise.
  3. I strongly dislike that there is, or at least has been, a crime called sedition. That strikes me as being the kind of law that is easily abused towards political ends, the kind of law that governments use to put their political opponents safely in jail, the kind of law whose threat is used to silence dissent and enforce adherence to the party line.
  4. Further down that sedition tangent, here’s a bit from our national anthem that I have always disliked:

    From dissension, envy, hate

    And corruption guard our State,

    Envy, hate and corruption are definitely bad, I will not quibble with that. But let’s play “one of these things is not like the other”…. Dissension? What’s wrong with that? If anything, we need more dissension, more of the free and vigorous contest of ideas. If anything, we need a lot less of middle class Pakeha telling marginalised groups to shut up and get in behind. And guard our State, because that is what’s most important, isn’t it? Not the nation, not the people, they should all just meekly get back into their place. It’s all about the State. Nope, that’s completely backwards. The State should be serving the people, the State should be protecting the people, so far as is practically possible, from itself.

  5. As for Helen Clark’s candidacy for UN Secretary General, well… I was in China for most of her reign as prime minister. My view-from-eleven-thousand-kilometres memory of her prime ministership is that although, yes, many good things were done on her watch, plenty of bad things were done, too. And I recall reading of a mysterious H2 and a  lot of control freakery. And I remember thinking during their third term in office that Clark and Cullen and the other old guard should probably start shuffling towards the exits and bringing fresh talent up through the ranks if they want a fourth term in government, or even just to ensure their party is well set-up for the future, but that didn’t seem to happen. As the John Key years have progressed I have become less and less comfortable with how many on the left seem to be almost deifying Clark. I don’t think she was a bad prime minister, I just don’t remember her being so great as to justify all the adulation. And now the hype surrounding her candidacy for Secretary General seems to be taking on similar tones to the build up to a rugby world cup, with a similarly sinister expectation that we all support what has been deemed the National Cause, and those whose responses are insufficiently enthusiastic are a bit suspect and not quite Kiwi enough.
  6. Having ranted point 5, I must say it was good to see #kiwitreason break out on Twitter.

That’s enough incoherent ranting for now.