Lyndon Hood - First Up Against the Wall, Lower Hutt.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wayne Mapp: Opposition spokesman for Political Correctness Eradication.

W - as they say - TF?

Had National been elected, we would presumably be forming a Department (surely not a Ministry) of Political Correctness Eradication.

This raises the usual question: what the hell is that supposed to mean? As a rule I find reading "bad stuff" for "political correctness" does not detract from the information conveyed or sentiment expressed in any way. Is that the case here?

I couldn't face the idea of trawling through his old columns for examples. But from a June speech ("The Problem with Political Correctness" - the inaugural Ralph Hannan lecture, which he open rather ironically by praising the titular gentleman for his "reforming zeal") we can gather some idea of what he's on about. Though not enough, I would have thought, to fill out a useful ministerial job description.

PC category one: obviously silly stuff done by the State. Twilight golf. Bovine homeopathy (which a farmer I met reckoned had saved him tens of thousands). Apparently merely calling such things 'bad' might lead to wasteful expenditure of resources to confirm the evaluation. Just call it PC, and out it goes.

Two: Treaty-principle references in legislation. Like a lot of Maori-related issues, I would actually like to see a debate about this involving real arguments not done in sound bites. The problem would seem to be that the Government, while not prepared to abandon those troublesome references, is electorally nervous of conducting a thorough defense.

Three: Special treatment for specific groups. I imagine he means "integrated" religious schools, the institution of marriage and the Brethren's exemption to employment legislation.

Four: Social advocacy by Government agencies, like the Waitangi Tribunal and the Human Right Commission. And, presumably, the commissioners for children and for families, the Department of Women's Affairs. If tinkering with the curriculum had any role in the renaissance of Maori culture, if the State has had any leadership role in make difference acceptable - well that kind of thing stops now.

So the putative Department would presumably be charge with rooting out such things, as well as encouraging agents of the state not to have any regard for what people who are different to us might consider polite or whether the fact that we're mostly hiring white men might somehow be our fault.

Oh, and probably stopping "social engineering" as well. It just struck that, if you look at the meaning of the words, "social engineering" is exactly what the Government always does. It's practically a job description.

I can't help imagine some kind of flying squad, jumping out and eradication political correctness with extreme prejudice.

As it happens the items listed above do have something common, apart from just being things the gummint does that Wayne doesn't like. The principles I'm seeing are that the law and the offices of state should not discriminate between groups of people. Operating with the default assumption is that any change in the relative treatment of two groups since, oh, about nine years ago is away from equality.

I think that assumption is wrong. And I'm increasingly agnostic about whether the principle is universally practical and how we would be able to tell when we were following it. It's a bit like "Justice", which is treating people "Fairly": that is, treating everyone equally except for whatever considerations you happen to think are relevant.

One man's equality is another man's discrimination. One woman's blatant special treatment is another woman's inching toward inclusion. Perhaps - here's an idea - we can let the democratic process sort it out.

But all this we've heard before. What's new is the job title. And that's ridiculous.

Calling something 'politically correct' is, at least in the mind of the speaker, as much the end of the debate as accusing something of being - I don't know - 'culturally insensitive' might be for someone else.

But whether some practice should be gotten rid of should always be decided on a case-by-case basis. And the question to ask is not "Is this politically correct or not?" or "Is the culturally sensitive or not?" but "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?"

Particularly considering that Dr Mapp's principles of what is PC may not stand universal application, that question is surely best answered by the Minister who has responsibility for whatever the policy being questioned is.

You may as well have a Minister of Being Right. Or - perhaps this is more to the point - a Shadow Minister of Berating the Government.

We'll se, I suppose. In the meantime, I consider the creation of a Shadow Political Correctness Eradication office a gimmicky, politically correct sop.

Don't get me wrong - some of the questions raised above do need to be constantly re-examined. The go to the heart of democracy. I think they do get examined: when Mapp says debate has been shut down I think he's wrong.

Remember that, as in any MMP Parliament, every bill the last government passed was supported by the representatives of a majority of New Zealanders. The Civil Union Act was a private member's bill that passed by members free to vote according to their conscience. How can there not be debate? It's just that one of the things that happen in a free and open debate is that people don't listen to each other and they complain that they don't know what the other's problem is.

Anyway, tyranny of the minority it isn't.