(White) men are destroying the left

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read that someone is destroying the left. Almost universally, it’s because they’re criticising someone else’s behaviour. Almost universally, they’re a woman, often Maori or Pasifika though not necessarily, criticising a well-known left wing man for trampling over others. Sometimes it’s rape or abuse apologism. Sometimes it’s sexism, or racism, or transphobia. Sometimes it’s the violation of boundaries of someone in a minority group, the assumption that they’re owed attention and time and hand-holding.

I’ve seen the effects of two incidents in the last week that play into this framework. One friend feeling so disillusioned with the left she felt she could no longer be a part of it after being gaslighted and harassed over a simple request not to make an offensive comparison. Another receiving an incredibly creepy and unwanted contact from someone whose fauxpology she’d criticised in a single tweet earlier in the week. Also this week has been discussion of a protest planned in Auckland in solidarity with #Ferguson which attempted to link events there with democracy protests in Hong Kong as part of some vast global movement, specifically claimed to not be a criticism of police, and is linked to organisations that are known for protecting rapists.

As a slight diversion from the topic, I was studying for my economics paper this morning and reading about production possibilities frontiers, essentially a model representing the trade offs that can be made when you can put your resources into two different outcomes. The example was an economy that produces cars and computers – you can make, say, 2200 computers and 600 cars, or 2000 computers and 700 cars, or you could go to an extreme and produce 1000 cars but no computers at all. The thing is, when you do that the opportunity cost of a car is high. A lot of your autoworkers are actually really good at making computers and not very good at making cars – if you move a few of them into computer production, you’re going to gain a lot more completed computers than you’ll lose completed cars.

This is actually a pretty good analogy for the left. We put so many of our resources into <s>cars</s> men that our opportunity costs in <s>computers</s> really effective, strong, capable women is skyrocketing. Protecting one rapist drives away dozens of women. Defending one guy who doesn’t understand boundaries silences dozens of women who now have to protect themselves against the risk of being stalked in real life for even the slightest criticism.

This system is not rational. It’s not reasonable. It’s not stable or efficient or effective. Instead of policing women’s reactions to bad behaviour, we need to police that behaviour. We need to teach people that if you have to track down someone’s contact information, you probably shouldn’t be using it. If they wanted you to call them they’d give you their phone number and there are very few situations that warrant an exception. The mindset that lets men (and the occasional woman) think they can ignore the boundaries of people who disagree with them is baffling in its arrogance and absolutely not conducive to the long-term success of the left. And particularly when it is a man, there is an existing context in which women have to constantly guard themselves against the possibility that that man is not just an annoyance, but outright dangerous. It’s a context in which calling someone at work to argue about the legitimacy of your apology is in the same category as domestic and intimate partner violence that kills and injures far too many women and girls. Is it the same thing? No. But the men who murder also stalk. When you receive that intrusive phone call, you don’t know how far it might go if you make him angry, and when we put our resources into coddling men who act like this and defending their behaviour we allow them to continue to act in ways that are destructive and harmful to everyone.

Financial assistance for tertiary students

I’ve gotten my final assignment back for the 300-level Policy Research & Evaluation paper I did last semester, and earned another A+ and another teacher telling me to do post-grad if I can afford it without starving. The only way to do that would be to amass enough grants and scholarships to live on until I’m finished, because I can’t live on the amount you can borrow from the living costs component of a student loan.

(If I could do post-grad, I would love to do something looking at Maori youth who are estranged from their immediate family and how that impacts on their connection to Maoritanga/Maori culture, history, etc. All the readings I’ve been doing there’s this constant repeating theme of immediate family being the link to culture, and I can’t help but think about situations where there’s been abuse, familial rejection, toxic environments that people just can’t deal with and stay healthy…)

Financial Assistance for Tertiary Students: A Review

From state housing to social housing

There’s a lot of discussion going on about the announcements that contracts for social housing will be sold to NGOs/community sector organisations. Coincidentally, I just did an essay on this. Or, more specifically, I did an essay on the social housing sector and potential for Maori development, so it doesn’t discuss the Salvation Army so much as groups like Tamaki Trust etc. Still, I thought it might be of some interest.

Update 3/11: I just got the feedback on this essay, I got an A+ (bringing my average for this paper to, well, A+, at least until I sit the exam on Saturday).

Maori housing development



Who’s to blame for National

After the huge number of advance votes placed in the lead-up to election day, the overall turnout was shockingly low. It’s easy to imagine that this would follow pre-existing trends in favouring the right. National actually got fewer votes than they did last election, despite winning more seats, but the Greens drastically underperformed even in comparison to the landline polls.

People’s response is naturally to blame non-voters. It’s understandable, but incredibly simplistic and I ended up having to quit Twitter yesterday because of how prevalent it was. The thing is, it’s easy for actively political people to see the link between voting and quality of life. It’s much harder when you’re alienated from politics entirely and just trying to make ends meet. The consequences of not voting are entirely abstract, while the consequences of paying for bus fare or using petrol aren’t. Other things that aren’t abstract: trying to find childcare, the risk of illness if you take small children out in that miserable cold rain we had, the cost of a doctor’s visit if they do get sick, the fact that none of you have raincoats, the length of time it takes to dry clothes out when you don’t have a dryer. And while the Greens particularly had some good policy for those really low income families, knowing that is not necessarily widespread. Most people still think of Labour as the real left wing party – and Labour hasn’t exactly been endearing itself to the vulnerable and needy.

That’s not to say that all non-voters are in this situation. Some of them presumably just couldn’t be bothered, or were put off by Dirty Politics, or whatever. But blaming all non-voters for National’s win feels really fucking gross when a huge number of them are struggling to survive and being failed by the rest of society. We (as a group) can’t treat people like shit and then get pissed off at them when they don’t engage in society in the way we’d wish. That’s bullshit. Blame Slater and Collins and Key. Blame the media. Blame Labour. Blame whoever you want, just don’t blame our victims.

Age is a number

The polls have closed in Scotland and the count has started. Aside from the excitement of a nation voting on whether or not to become independent (peacefully!), there are a few other quirks about the referendum that have drawn notice. One is that 16 year olds were eligible to vote.

Some people think this is a bad idea. Some think it’s “insane”, even. Typically the argument is that the brain of a 16 year old isn’t fully developed enough to understand the consequences of their actions.

I am extremely uncomfortable with that argument for several reasons. Firstly, the fact that that’s exactly the same argument that was used to deny women and various ethnic groups suffrage in the past (and in a couple of places even today). This will be rebutted with the assumption that our knowledge of the brain is better now, but during those previous debates they assumed their knowledge of the brain was correct too. The fact is, we know very little about the brain. They’ve just found a woman in China who’s 24 years old and has no cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for fine motor control, balance, motor learning and speech. Normally when this happens, the person dies quite young. In her case she had the symptoms of a minor to moderate impairment – difficulty walking, slurred speech, late development of both (speaking at 6, walking at 7). Why? Science doesn’t fucking know. The assumption is that other parts of the brain took up the slack. The brain is the least understood part of the human body.

Basing civil rights on mental abilities is really gross. It’s lead to intelligence tests that were rigged for failure. It’s lead to people with any sort of mental impairment being barred from voting (and the history of insanity is pretty fascinating for how mental impairment has been assessed over the years). There are plenty of adults who don’t grasp consequences very well who are nonetheless strongly encouraged to vote. You can vote with a concussion if you want. You can vote no matter what your educational level. There’s no obligation to even read up on the candidates or parties, you can go in there drunk with absolutely zero clues about any of it, pick two options at random, and it’s still a legitimate vote. The fact that we have a tradition of satirical political parties should be some indication that this is not some holy rite that only the most worthy should be blessed enough to take part in.

Meanwhile we let 16 year olds make all sorts of decisions that affect their future in dramatic ways. Pick school subjects, drop out, have children, leave home (in certain circumstances), drive. Car crashes are a major killer, particularly affecting Maori youth, especially rurally.

If 16 year olds are allowed to participate in adult society, and be quite strongly affected by decisions made there (eg youth wages, employment law, tertiary policy, apprenticeship schemes), I think it’s a little outlandish to consider the idea of allowing them to vote to be “insane”. 16 year olds are fairly likely to be taking or have taken civics classes fairly recently, and still have that information fresh in their minds. They are a lot more intelligent than people give them credit for. Not all of them will want to vote, and when you look at the places where they’re allowed to you’ll usually find that at 16 you’re able, but at 18 it becomes compulsory (either to just enrol or also vote), or 16 year olds are only able to vote in particular kinds of election but not all of them. But 16 year olds are right on the cusp of entering the adult world and the decisions people make here tomorrow will affect them strongly. Very strongly, considering some of the areas that have been policy focuses lately. Someone who’s in Year 13 this year and hasn’t turned 18 yet won’t have a chance to vote until they’ve already been in the workforce or higher education (ideally), raising a small child (also pretty hard work), or stuck on a benefit (increasingly more realistically) for two and a half years. That would have been me if you shifted my birth year – I didn’t turn 18 until just after I started university. And yet they have no say whatsoever on who gets to define the terms of their participation for those nearly three years. Looking at it through a civil rights framework, I just don’t think that’s fair. I want to encourage young people to take an interest in politics early. Maybe if we can catch these 16 year olds, it will be one of the factors we need to improve youth engagement. That can’t be a bad thing.

State of the Pakeha

God, I know, I still exist. Fourth anniversary of the first quake and all.

This has been a busy semester for me so far and with my contact courses over I’m using the rest of the break to attempt to catch up on naps. Soon I’ll be starting to look at the next round of assignments due in the first half of October – research projects, research proposals, long essays. I’m also supposed to get a journal and start jotting down ideas for a Masters dissertation. Not because I’m enrolled in a Masters, just because I’ve been told that I will be.

Anyway, I’m working the election again, so the usual “not allowed to discuss politics” rules apply. But hey, money!

Home again

I arrived in Christchurch this evening for a week visiting home, basically completely due to my sister deciding that Matariki should be a time the family is together and booking flights. Our flight landed here at 6.30, which at this time of year means night time, the first time I’ve overflown the city at night since the earthquakes. There are… some significant patches of certain areas where no lights are on.

So far it’s just been readjusting to how my family socialises together, which involves a lot of talking over each other, meandering trains of thought, and increasing numbers of conversations about the buying of property, getting the best rate of return on money, tax reduction, and how you should be putting a quarter of your income away for retirement from your early 30s. Even on my meagre income that’s about twice what I spend on food, so I feel that’s not a thing I’ll be doing quite yet (though technically I have about eight months until I’m 30). In the morning we’re getting picked up by our kaiako to go to market, and then we’ll probably end up at her house where I can get some dog cuddles and we may work on the old practice tukutuku panel that we had left unfinished for some other weavers to do. They never really did, so we’re going to get it finished for an exhibition of the group’s work that’s going to be on soon. Tentatively we might hit Orana Park on Wednesday, and one weekday I’ll head into town for some photos of the rebuild changes. Apart from that we’ll see.


I’m as surprised as anyone to find out I have really strong opinions about this. I suppose it’s something you don’t really think about until it becomes relevant. But in the wake of the court ruling that the suspension of a male student for having his hair too long (or, technically, for not cutting it when told) was unlawful, people have been talking a lot about what rules schools should be allowed to set.

It seems like the main thrust of the argument in support of the school is something like: Kids need to learn to follow rules. There’s a bit of other stuff mixed in, like it’s not about whether the rule is okay, it’s about the school being able to enforce the rule, and not undermining them, because otherwise kids won’t learn how to follow rules. I’ve seen it said a few different ways, but that basically seems to be the gist.

The thing is, we’re not talking about five year olds, we’re talking about fifteen year olds. If a fifteen year old doesn’t know how to follow rules something’s pretty irreparably broken. Is this kid able to turn up to school on time? Does he do his school work? Is he managing not to commit violence when upset or frustrated? Does he more or less tell the truth? Does he pay bus fares and not shop lift? Is he able to assess how to act around different people depending on where they fall in a social hierarchy in comparison to him? Can he line up when appropriate and wait his turn? Does he follow every single other rule except this one? Congratulations. He knows how to follow rules. It’s just that this rule is stupid. And after fifteen years of teaching a kid to follow rules, I think it’s about time to support them in learning to recognise when rules are stupid and challenge them. There are countless examples through history of rules that needed to be challenged. No, this isn’t a Godwin, I’m talking relatively small things that were nonetheless harmful and oppressive. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all my policy classes, it’s that rules can have far-reaching effects and they need to be assessed sometimes to see whether they’re actually doing any good.

In this situation, the rule is not doing any good. There’s nothing wrong with a school saying students should wear a uniform or be tidy. But hair is actually a deeply personal and culturally important thing, and not one that really has any impact on other people unless, I don’t know, you fashion it with razor blades hanging from it or it smells awful or something. The idea that men have to have short hair is by no means universal – in fact I’m willing to bet it’s the case in a significant minority of cultures, and given that we’re making efforts to be a multicultural country, that’s a fairly important point.

The obvious response to that, I suppose, though not one I’ve actually seen, is that schools could make exceptions for students with deeply held religious or cultural views. The problem with that is that a) students shouldn’t have to justify their cultures, and b) when you restrict it to only students with “legitimate” reasons for exception, those students become very visibly Different. They suddenly have to become a spokesperson for their culture and constantly field questions about why they’re allowed long hair when everyone else isn’t while they’re just trying to go to school, whereas if everyone is allowed longer hair it’s just another personal choice that doesn’t need to be constantly justified and explained.

There is, of course, also a gender dimension. I saw a stat the other day that about 40% of non-cis people don’t identify with the gender binary, so it’s not only a case of specifically mtf transgender students. Anyone might want to play with their gender presentation and to be honest when you’re a teenager can often be the best time to do it. (Or at least, it would be if we could make a serious attempt to reduce gender identity related bullying.) It’s a time of life where most people are figuring out who they are – they’re old enough that they’re not so completely under their parents thumbs and they can go through phases, play with styles, try things out to see if they work without necessarily being expected to stick with them.

Let’s be real. With increasing inequality in this country, what school you go to often matters far more than it should. And kids are legally obliged to attend school. It’s not reasonable to just say the market will decide and people don’t have to send their kids there if they don’t want to follow rules, especially a rule that will disproportionately affect boys from non-European cultures or who are gender non-conforming. Courts have always had the right to tell schools that they can’t enforce harmful and oppressive rules, and if we’re going to worry about undermining institutions, I’d far rather undermine the school than the court.

Self-care and loneliness

One thing I really hate about mood disorders is the way the faintest whiff of criticism can send me into an utter tailspin for days. There’s this feeling of complete self-loathing and hopelessness and anger, while at the same time your rational brain is saying “actually, that’s valid, and also not a big deal, I can work on that” (but also “even though everyone probably hates me now”). And you don’t ever want people to realise how it affects you because you don’t want anyone to feel like they have to treat you with kid gloves or be scared of disagreeing with you. Realising you were doing something that annoyed people and they were all talking about it privately but no one wanted to approach you because you were too unstable would be even worse, so you have to keep the emotional reaction to yourself – you can’t let these people see it, and you can’t tell anyone else because you’re so aware that it’s such a tiny thing that even thinking about how to word it feels so stupid you can’t bear it.