Noah Mackie | 26.9 | Whakaraupō Carving Centre Trust
As of May, this year, it had been close to five years since I had last been in Aotearoa, and in that time, there has been a profound gap in the political and social views between New Zealander’s. It’s astounding, the extremities of the Prime Minister being guilty of crimes equivalent to that of Nazi Germany, to lists urging for people in positions of government and academia to step up to the guillotine. The rhetoric of the right to free speech has become so unbelievably popularised to a point where if you point out obvious racism, you’re somehow a fascist. Now, in my absence I took it upon myself to get an education, and through rigorous study, I’ve come to consider myself an anarchist now working within a Māori kaupapa. In reality, I really should be a prodder of the beehive. But in saying that, I can’t help but be irked by the fact that my defiance is in no way similar to the one’s I’ve seen on the steps of Pōneke.
I think it’s wise to clarify to reader’s what an anarchist actually is, because the common conception has been consciously misconstrued by exactly those it intends to extract. An anarchist isn’t throwing molotov’s at cars, inflicting widespread violence, or playing in punk bands on days off. An anarchist rejects any body of authority that cannot justify its existence: anti-big-government and anti-big corporations. To a degree, the divide in New Zealand has a fragment of this idea, they’re clearly angered by an unfairness. I believe they have every right to be angry, in fact, I think the 99% has. It’s as though our whero faces and koropupū blood urge Papatūānuku to hurry up and get it over with. In a hyper-individualised world, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed by your own mortality while religious thinking hangs in the corner offering a sense of belonging through polarised political beliefs. This is exactly what we are seeing today, from both ends of the political spectrum there is a struggle in fathoming what lies beyond your own world, so you attack it. So for the rest of this essay, I’m going to deconstruct these attitudes: why they exist, what can come of it, and then a solution or two.
I want to start with education, as this is the core of my kaupapa. Modern education is flawed, still entrenched with medieval theological values that are irrelevant to a modern multi-cultural society, but for some reason we hold on to them. First, I think it’s appropriate that I provide my own background in education as it gives context to my kaupapa. I went to a predominately non-Māori primary school, I cannot think of one single waiata, haka, or karakia said. The less problems you have at home the easier school is, I was on a slight middle ground here, school was an enjoyable experience, except for the most irritating bell that played the intro to Blister in the sun by the Violent Femmes nine times a day (I will discuss why bells exist in schools shortly). Coming into high school was slightly different, the number of pupils multiplied by ten, and the decile rating lowered by eight. I did what most teenage boys do: develop a video game addiction, become overweight, and do the bare minimum when it comes to schoolwork.
From my experience, and I’m sure many Rangatahi agree, school is so unbelievably mind numbing and pointless that you become quite a professional at faking being sick and finding elaborate schemes to not be in the classroom. Canteen kai was the sole reason for attendance. We’d trod along with our socks up and shirts tucked in and onto the assembly line where compliance is drilled into the psyche. They even give fancy titles to the most compliant ones, these are called ‘head-boys’, ‘prefects’ and ‘house-captains’ who are given slithers of authority, missing their one hour of freedom outside to attend meetings on ‘leadership’ and ‘authority’; two very different things. To the rest of us this was all bullshit, no one ever listened to these students with authority, and if we did it was usually because we were much smaller, or there was a teacher breathing down their neck. When I look back now, it’s quite sad that Rangatahi are encouraged to abandon the best parts of their youth and adopt a sense of authority that begins the process of teaching you to dislike the part of yourself that was once innocent and free. In my final year, I remember the deputy-head’s preaching of university, credits, and blah blah blah. This wasn’t on my cards at all, but I thought, surely it can’t be that bad.
Since Covid I would always think that being a student must feel simultaneously surreal and terrible. One, you can lounge around home rent and responsibility free without an ounce of guilt attached. But second, you lose the fundamental part of being young, and that is socialisation. My younger brother was in high school at the time, and despite conversation feeling like drawing blood out of a stone, he gradually began to convey how incredibly boring it was, even endless hours of gaming. We cannot imagine what it must be like to be a youth today, where vital things such as socialisation have been massively virtualised. Young people today have no idea about the world, yet they are digitally exposed to it through endless scrolling. When you haven’t left the nest or exposed yourself to ideas that challenge the ones you’ve been accustomed to, the trajectories of life become incredibly narrow. Many people, mainly parents, justifiably tend to look for someone to blame for their child’s defiance or lack of interest to anything outside of a screen. Those that are childless shudder at how dystopian children are becoming; in one kōrero, one woman told me her niece tried swiping on a rock on a trip to the beach and became frustrated by it not responding. Yet, adults nowadays prefer intimacy through an app rather than a bar, or share our opinions over a comments section rather than a café? And despite various adults developing a distain for youthful innocence, such as councils going out of their way to place skate stops on every single grindable object, I have a much more empathetic approach to their situation. I recently came across two articles, one on the drop in NCEA pass rates, and two, on the other significant drop in international student numbers at universities. I couldn’t help myself but to read the comments. This is where things get interesting, the top comments were, and I quote:
“but why is there a lack of students? Perhaps international students aren’t looking for a woke lecture on Māori protocol”
“Yet another effect of Labours shocking handling as government”
“Guess this is what happens when the woke world takes over running education in this country!”
The list is endless, one just has to spend time on Facebook to witness these comments with a substantial like count; from people the ages of thirty plus, with names such as Deborah or Trevor, who in no way demonstrate being in touch with the youth of today. However, it is the logic that is astounding, how can one truly believe that the drop in the academic performance of Rangatahi is due to ‘Māori protocol’ and ‘the woke world’. From an anthropological perspective, Māori protocol has existed before England was even a unified nation; when Kings, Barons, and Bishops began seizing the livelihoods of peasants, Ariki were ensuring that this wouldn’t happen. Two, if they bothered to actually know, the societal organisation behind tikanga, or protocol, largely rests on the respect for forces that are larger at play than humans (we’re seeing the opposite effects of this attitude pan out today on the climate crisis). And three, I find it funny how academic achievement only becomes a serious issue when its non-Māori that are involved, the whole reason Māori have historically struggled compared to non-Māori on NCEA reports is largely due to not even knowing or being able to practice tikanga in the first place.
On the latter comments, it seems as though a proportion of the New Zealand public is under the impression that academics are indoctrinating Rangatahi with tapu kōrero on things such as equality and liberty. This is quite a common rhetoric among conservative types who have clearly been influenced by the American individualism that rose during the Trump administration. A left-wing enthusiast can also be extremely annoying by exhibiting extremely individualised behaviour too. But both groups demonstrate this desperation to be heard, why? Well, it’s incredibly lonely when the world is in your own head, and politics is your get out jail card to religious dogma, such as cancel culture and Jordan Peterson. The left versus right rhetoric is an endless game of cat and mouse, pointing fingers at him, her, and them like toddlers fighting over a toy. This is one significant reason why I believe we should abandon our current version of politics. But before explaining further reasons, I have a bone to pick with the entitled baby boomers. The types like Mike Hosking who sobbed on air upon hearing her Majesty’s death, the ones with less of a leg to stand on, who’ve had a longer run, but have confusingly witnessed more worldly injustices- from riots, famine, war, apartheid, natural disaster even the effects of colonisation. Yet they remain so unbelievably bitter about Māori sovereignty, or any type of sovereignty, to the point where casual nodes of racism slip into their digital thought tank without repercussion. Moreover, their whole argument is always about rights and democracy but never equality.
What seems to be the case, is that these people actively avoid engaging in academic discourse or listening to someone with an ounce of mana. There’s a clear preference for taking information from an alt-right YouTuber rather than any peer reviewed academic journal. Interestingly, there’s a term for this called: schismogenesis- coined by anthropologist Gregory Bateson in the 1930s to describe people’s tendency to define themselves against one another. Imagine an argument between two people on a minor political disagreement, but after an hour, they end up taking positions so intransigent they find themselves on completely opposite sides of some ideological divide. A good example are the British and the French, who have exhibited schismogenesis over centuries; having a keen eye for difference of their neighbours, yet being quite literally ‘a kind of distorted mirror’. One common stereotype that British people make about the French, even some French people would probably agree, is their rudeness. This pertains to being stuck up, incapable of setting aside dignity and arrogance. The French on the other hand, think exactly the same thing, in the sense that British people are rude by their crass hooligan attitude and their distasteful palette that drowns kai in brown sauce at every given opportunity. British society drives on the left, whereas the French drive on the right. British society, particularly the older demographics, are fond of the royal family, the French overthrew theirs. British society loves the English language, French society physically recoil at continuous poor attempts of ‘la kwass-ont’. Alternatively, another example can be seen more classically between Athens and Sparta, as Marshall Sahlins put it:
‘Dynamically interconnected, they were then reciprocally constituted…Athens was to Sparta as sea to land, cosmopolitan and xenophobic, commercial to autarkic, luxurious to frugal, democratic to oligarchic, urban to villageois, autochthonous to immigrant, logomaniac to laconic: one cannot finish enumerating the dichotomies…Athens and Sparta were antitypes’
Now, in the case of England and France these are all of course stereotypes, but it demonstrates how schismogenesis operates; they all definitely exaggerate their differences arguing with one another. Well, how does this relate to society in Aotearoa? Class was a domineering factor in Victorian England, and this undeniably stowed itself into the colonisation of Aotearoa, and basically every European colony for that matter. Many Europeans who were presented with the image of ‘New Zeeland’ saw it as a means to escape their poor living conditions at the time. In many ways, it is a story similar to the American frontier, one where no matter how far you go to escape exploitation, the rich will probably build a rail network just so you can’t. But I believe the distorted mirror in Aotearoa isn’t entirely a reflection of class alone, it contains deeper layers of 19th century ideals from Victorian England which retain underpinning theological aspects too. There is no denying that the rich and powerful are predators, there’s a reason why stoats and ferrets made it to Aotearoa and the drastic effects they both caused. But power is all the more frightening when the divine is involved because meaningless acts become meaningful, such as domination and violence. The overt racism of 19th century Europe is still rife, one just has to pick up a historic treatise from the time when the ‘noble savage’ was a hot topic among European readers. This parasite effectively took hold of New Zealand’s settlers in many ways similar to the kinds we see in the American south.
The first university established in New Zealand was Otago in 1870, with a staff of three professors, roughly a decade later was Canterbury College, and then Auckland and Wellington. However, the academic study of New Zealand has its roots in England, many of the most substantial works on New Zealand history began life as doctoral theses at English universities. Many of the earliest professors rushed to construct a library of works and documentation on the ‘new’ narrative of the colony. As this was occurring, many working-class Irish, Scottish, British, and even French immigrants were adapting to the new colony, foregoing their old identity in the hopes of a better one. Moehanga of Ngāpuhi, one of the first Māori to visit England commented on the poor living conditions of the King’s people, understandably then, many Europeans jumped at the idea of abandoning poverty, as would anyone. They were told that Papatūānuku was ripe, agriculture and timber milling boomed, even more so when refrigeration came into play for exportation. Many early agriculturalists and pastoralists were avid mountaineers, writers, poets, painters, botanists, and the like; documenting each fragment of the taiao as they saw it, plastering their name over the original Māori canvas. This is why even in the tiniest of towns, such as Oxford in Canterbury, in no way shape of form resembles the Oxford in England. Pākehā history was in the making, where the earliest pioneers are said to have witnessed more social and economic growth in one lifetime than their predecessors had in centuries of the Old World. But it was the economic reality that was their playground, ‘full-play’ they called it, where the rivalries of class, race and religion were easy to gloss over in creating social policy and identity.
One thing remained however, many of the first academics of New Zealand were bound by imperialist attitudes, reminding the new history canon that the British Empire was the mother that brought them into the New World. They noted historians should study the ‘general movements of the Empire as a whole’ rather than the individual colonies. In none of this, ever, was the future of Māori considered, they were excluded from the playground entirely. Assimilation was the only way for Māori to survive, and many like to argue that Māori enjoyed it, that severing connections to ancestral homelands is somehow quite a simple thing to do, and if it isn’t, you can adopt the century old European habit of alcoholism instead. Following the second war, production boomed in agriculture and milling, and by now, the identity of being a New Zealander came to the fore, there’s a reason why so many Australians came to call New Zealander’s sheep-shaggers. However, the Achilles heel of this identity formation was the way the working class was constantly reminded of its roots, regardless of whether they were trying to consciously abandon it or not. Canterbury, Wellington, Gore, Hamilton, Hastings, Hawke, Palmerston, Napier, and Nelson are all reminders of England’s most prolific achievements of the empire. Otago is Gaelic for Edinburgh, Inver is another Gaelic word for river mouth, Cargill on the other hand was a noted as being an ‘unabashed provincialist’. Many New Zealander’s today wouldn’t have the slightest clue as to who these names belong to or what they did, yet there are countless towns, landmarks and streets named after them. It is exactly for that reason their conservative attitudes are so confusing. What is being held on to? What happened in the past that is so valuable in retaining now?
New Zealander’s are reminded of a completely foreign past which is now being told and realised as something not to be proud of. Individuals are haunted by the dominating spirit of the Empire. If value isn’t found in sport or the outdoors, then your other option is drinking. It’s an uncomfortable kōrero to have, a tapu one even. The ruling class of the 19th and 20th centuries executed the best copy and paste of Victorian England possible, particularly in the easiest domain to do so: education. The school bell comes from time clocks in factories, where workers (which included children) were expected to punch the clock upon entering and leaving. Charity schools were designed to teach the poor discipline and punctuality, which then gave way to public school systems where students of all social classes were made to get up and march from room to room each hour at the sound of a bell, an arrangement self-consciously designed to train children for future lives of paid factory labour. Single sex schools come from the patriarchal theological view that only men could be educated, usually ones that were filthy rich. Men believed women were intellectually inferior, and that if they did happen to gain an education that wasn’t to do with domestication, then they were steering off their ‘natural’ role. These attitudes were undoubtedly strong, and they still remain in the environments of Rangatahi today, and as we see it fall to pieces through conscious rejection, labelling it ‘woke culture’ is one way to protect it.
A recent article was published stating that the proportion of men in higher education in New Zealand has hit an all time low (39%). Isn’t this the elephant in the room? Indicating to us that imperial education models simply don’t have a place in today’s age. Now that we have shifted from a time where only men were allowed an education, the descendants of breadwinners are starved on an equal playing field. Most men aren’t compelled by circumstances beyond their control to change, and most men who suffer a crisis of masculinity do not know where to turn to seek change. Men don’t need to consider education as seriously because they’ve never been at the bereft of it. For men, learning to use your head more than your fists, has resulted in psychological and spiritual suffering, and the less fortunate usually extend that suffering physically towards women and children. Māori experienced this first, and as we have only just begun to heal by reconnecting with culture, it is still an ongoing tragedy. This is exactly why the unchecked anger directed at the healing process for Māori is riddled with the ignorance and racism. And for those who still disagree, here is an excerpt from the Native Schools Inspector, Henry Taylor in 1862:
‘The native language itself is also another obstacle in the way of civilization, so long as it exists there is a barrier to the free and unrestrained intercourse which ought to exist between the two races, it shuts out the less civilized portion of the population from the benefits which intercourse with the more enlightened would confer’.
Less than one hundred years ago, tamariki that spoke Te Reo in schools were punished by physical violence, women weren’t even able to enter a pub let alone a university, and were also likely to experience physical violence, just not where anyone could witness it. The colonial narrative and its past is entrenched in domination, subjugation, and coercion. As it is increasingly met with resistance, the inability of being able to exert such control and domination enshrouds a huge proportion of New Zealand society in shame, to the point where they feel as though they must act as the hand compelled to punish by divine right in Facebook comments. Often, the problems that are in front of you come from what’s behind you; we walk into the future backwards picking up what’s been left behind. Governments, institutions, and corporations are scumbags yes, bent on power even if they express some sort of do-gooder behaviour. Even the concept of ‘policy’ implies the existence of an elite group – government officials typically- that gets to decide on something (a policy) that they then arrange to be imposed on everybody else. But their actions alone are not the direct cause of the complex problems we are faced with today; it goes much deeper into the veins of history and whakapapa, which so many are scared to confront. Colonisation was a malicious ideology set by those who would benefit from it the most. These were the rich and powerful, and they are still benefiting today, poisoning waterways, destroying natural habitats, hoarding vacant properties- extracting our mauri like a vampire.
Through denial suffering continues, through acceptance liberation can occur. Popular psychotherapist M. Scott Peck reminds us that anytime any of us takes significant steps to grow, we go through a process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Similarly, this happens when we grieve. Humans aren’t by default competitive, compassion is at the core of our being, and it is through education where this can be taught.
From this, the Dalai Lama offers:
Compassion is one of the principal things that makes our lives meaningful. It is the source of all lasting happiness and joy. And it is the foundation of a good heart. Through kindness, through affection, through honesty, through truth and justice toward all others we ensure our own benefit. This is not a matter for complicated theorizing. It is a matter of common sense…There is no denying that our happiness is inextricably bound up with the happiness of others. There is no denying that if society suffers, we ourselves suffer…Thus we can reject anything else: religion, ideology, all received wisdom. But we cannot escape the necessity of love and compassion.
Think about this public holiday differently, what are we really grieving? The loss of a monarch, or the freedom from the shackles of dominance?