Friday, August 29, 2008

Censorship: Alive and well and living in New Zealand


Dr Paul moon recounts his experiences to the New Zealand Herald about the problems he has faced from his new book on Maori cannabalism.
The physical destruction of books now seems to belong to another, much less enlightened age, but not so the censorial urges that led to the practice. I have experienced this first-hand in the past few weeks since the release of my book This Horrid Practice, which explores traditional Maori cannibalism.
I recall a fellow academic approaching me when I started writing the book and warning me that I was putting my career in jeopardy by tackling this subject. At first, I dismissed the caution, but when others began making similar comments, I came around to the view that I would be risking my integrity as a historian by being bullied into silence.
It all echoes the erosion of academic freedom and the rampnt 'political correctness' in Helengrad today which is as much an assault on free speech as Dear Leader's beloved Electoral Finance Act.

15 comments:

Lance said...

Political Correctness is usually found in "officialdom" where rules are made governing what to say and what not to say, usually from a PR point of view i.e. businesses, charities, political parties, councils etc. The softly, softly, eggshell language makes me cringe but there is no force involved.

In this case there has been no force either, or even overt or covert state censorship... yet.

While the methods are far more subtle, their aim in this case to bar the sale and distribution of my book amounts to exactly the same thing: censorship based on ideology.

I wonder if they are in fact aiming that high? Maybe they are just indulging some righteous indignation. It's the new drug.

Psycho Milt said...

It all echoes the erosion of academic freedom and the rampnt 'political correctness' in Helengrad today...

I noticed you made the same claim in the comments thread of my post on Greg Clydesdale FFM, which left me wondering whether you blame Labour when you stub your toe.

For the record: the erosion of academic freedom going on at the moment has nothing to do with the Labour govt, and everything to do with the business model imposed on universities by National govts of the 1990s. The only charge I can lay at Labour's door in this respect is that they haven't done enough to reverse the rot started by National. And the imminent imposition of a new National govt can be expected only to worsen the problem, not improve it. Please spare us the "Helengrad" bollocks.

Mr Dennis said...

I am glad that there is someone willing to stand up and publish true historical facts. Cannibalism is not good. But it is part of our history, which we shouldn't try to hide.

I was shocked when I first found out about it (while I was at high school) that nothing like this was covered in the curriculum. The high school curriculum focussed on the Maori legends, religion and the nice parts of their way of life, and on how horrible the Europeans were bringing muskets and starting wars.

The curriculum avoided any negative aspects of Maori culture (such as cannibalism and war), or positive aspects of European settlement (such as the Christian missionaries and the great appreciation many Maori had for the Gospel).

There are good and bad sides to our past, both Maori and European, and we need to be able to accept both. Didn't the ambassador to Canada get stood down a few years back for telling the truth over exactly this issue?

Peter said...

PM, you were asking me yesterday how the "dogmas" of PC were enforced and what punishments accrue if they are broken. I think this may be a good example. If you don't want to put your career at risk, it's obviously better to leave certain subjects alone.

In this case I don't think it matters exactly why Maori practised cannibalism. We know they did it but it's in the past. But obviously some people are afraid that Maori culture today might be viewed negatively because of it. Obviously they can't prevent me knowing that cannibalism occurred but they care very much what I think the reasons for it are and what attitude I might take. They want to prevent me from forming the "wrong" impression by not letting me come into contact with what they think are wrong ideas.

What is the biggest complaint about Mr. Moon's book? That it is racist and that it demonises Maori. In other words, not that it is incorrect but that it makes Maori look bad.

I'm not sure whether these sorts of people are afraid the truth might lose out in the marketplace of ideas, or whether they think it's more important to have harmonious and positive thoughts than accurate historical information. Either way, this is not a positive cultural trend and should be resisted.

Redbaiter said...

"But it is part of our history."

Not my history. Not I nor any of my ancestors in NZ have ever engaged in cannibalism.

Dr. Moon is finding out how savagely relevant in socialist NZ is the old adage, "he who speaks the truth must always have one foot in the stirrup."

Once there was a man living in a small country who left that country. During his absence, that country became fixated upon a diet of rhubarb. They ate it every day for breakfast lunch and dinner. They ate so much rhubarb their faces began to turn red.

When the traveler returned to his country, he noticed that everyone had very red faces. The funny thing was, as the colouration had only occurred so gradually, and as it had effected everyone simultaneously, and as the country ( a little island in the South Pacific) was relatively isolated from the rest of the world, the change had gone unnoticed.

The traveler said to the islanders- "Your faces are all red". They were outraged. "No they are not." they countered. "It is your face that is unnaturally pale." The traveler persisted in his views and was eventually locked up. The islanders went on eating rhubarb and eventually the whole island exploded into a misty red haze.

Thats why I have always tried to push the envelope on freedom of political expression in this country. I consider it to be suffering badly under the grip of a totalitarian political movement whose main strategy is to limit ideas and words that challenge that movement's social and political ascendancy. The main idea is to extinguish criticism of that movement's basic immorality.

We must blaze a trail back to that place where a man can speak and say what he wishes on politics and morality and other issues. Its a hard road, but if we just continue to use the powerful weapon of truth, the followers of that destructive movement will never stop us.

Peter said...

For the record: the erosion of academic freedom going on at the moment has nothing to do with the Labour govt, and everything to do with the business model imposed on universities by National govts of the 1990s.

Neither one is to blame. This cultural trend where adherence to liberal dogma is considered more important than academic freedom has been going on for decades all over the Western world. It's not the fault of any government, but obviously some political philosophies are more accomodating of it than others.

KG said...

What Redbaiter said.
Bravo!

Psycho Milt said...

Before going any further, let me say that NZ's most pointless bureaucrat has no more business poking his nose into this argument than he did in the Clydesdale one. Hopefully the next govt we get will see fit to smack the prick around the ears with the Bill of Rights, or better yet, disband the pointless expense that is his department.

That said:

Peter wrote: PM, you were asking me yesterday how the "dogmas" of PC were enforced and what punishments accrue if they are broken. I think this may be a good example. If you don't want to put your career at risk, it's obviously better to leave certain subjects alone.

This assessment would have merit if we could point to some "pre-PC" time when one's career would not be put at risk by publishing material guaranteed to infuriate influential colleagues and a wide section of the reading public. However, there wasn't any such time. All that has changed in recent decades is the nature of the ideas that can be expected to cause offence.

Clunking Fist said...

psycho, which goes to show that far from "progressing" under liberal thought, we have merely moved sideways.

Anonymous said...

What bullshit The lefties hate to see the truth if it states anything other than their self imposed version of the truth they will deny and when that fails start to attack the messenger

they just cant except that they might be or are wrong

gd

Peter said...

This assessment would have merit if we could point to some "pre-PC" time when one's career would not be put at risk by publishing material guaranteed to infuriate influential colleagues and a wide section of the reading public. However, there wasn't any such time. All that has changed in recent decades is the nature of the ideas that can be expected to cause offence.

That's all very well, but universities are supposed to be committed to something called academic freedom - "the freedom of academic staff and students, within the law, to
question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas and to state controversial or
unpopular opinions". What you are saying is that those fine words are really only window dressing and we shouldn't be surprised when reality falls short. I don't think we should be so blase.

Peter said...

I used to feel a sense of superiority when I read about how countries such as China and the USSR distorted history to give legitimacy to the ruling party. At least here, I thought, the ideas our society is built on aren't so fragile that we can't afford to examine them too closely. But this is exactly what the PC people seem to believe. They are afraid that if we look too closely at what pre-European Maori were like then we'll think Maori today are a bunch of savages and want to tear up the Treaty of Waitangi. They're afraid somebody might discover that some of the assumptions of multiculturalism or biculturalism, actually aren't well founded and as a result the whole project might collapse.

Psycho Milt said...

That's all very well, but universities are supposed to be committed to something called academic freedom...

What you are saying is that those fine words are really only window dressing and we shouldn't be surprised when reality falls short.


Not quite. What I'm saying is that we don't need to invent a fancy new name, "Political Correctness," for this familiar and unexceptional phenomenon.

That's basically the only point on which we're in disagreement. The fact that a particular form of bad behaviour by institutions is unsurprising doesn't at all mean that we therefore shouldn't oppose it; in this case, as with the Clydesdale case, academic freedom means the academics should be left to argue it out amongst themselves based on who can make the better case - not handed over to Mr #1 Pointless Bureaucrat to make some kind of Official Proclamation on the matter. Let's hope AUT shapes up better than Massey in this respect.

Peter said...

Not quite. What I'm saying is that we don't need to invent a fancy new name, "Political Correctness," for this familiar and unexceptional phenomenon.

Why not? it's a phrase which has fairly specific connotations (at least in my opinion). It means more than simply pressure to conform or institutional bad behaviour. The people who use the word "politically correct" do have something definite in mind which they want to express, why shouldn't they have a word for it?

Of course people who are in favour of what is called political correctness, would prefer that there not be a word for it, so it can't be pinned down and criticised.

Anonymous said...

so true redbaiter.there is nothing so blind to reality than those who can not face up to it.