Elizabeth Rata in defence of democracy

From a speech by Professor Rata to the ACT conference:

‘Partial loyalty’ can explain what it is about the modern individual has contradictory loyalties simultaneously – identifying as a family member, a member of an ancestral group, a cultural group, a tribe, a religion, an identity group defined by leisure interests, sexuality, and so on.

This is civil society. From different, even conflicting interests how do we decide where our loyalty lies – is it to New Zealand? To an identity group? An ancestral group? To those ‘ look like us’?

The idea of ‘partial loyalty’ is a way into thinking about this question.

It is a question that someone in a tribal society, an autocratic society, a religious society would not have to ask, or be permitted to ask, because the answer is already provided.

Most societies demand total loyalty.

Traditional tribal societies allowed one identity – fixed by birth status and and kinship ties – not open to individual choice.  Loyalty was non-negotiable because total loyalty ensured the group’s survival.

Autocratic regimes, both past and present, impose total loyalty – not for the survival of all, but for the elite – imposed by might and by ideological indoctrination.

Democracies are different in a fundamental way. They not only allow partial loyalty but require it.

In a democracy we hold many loyalties simultaneously – family and social groups where the loyalty is personal – creating a deeply held sense of identity and belonging  – perhaps to a tribe, culture, religion, sport or other type of association.

And at the same time we are loyal to a diverse society and to its governing system that is not personal. Indeed loyalty to the democratic nation is loyalty to a vision – the idea of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’.

It is a nice way to think about things – democracies are about partial loyalty.

Retribalism has attackedthe three pillars of democracy through the covert use of ideology. I want to talk specifically about how this is occurring in language, education, and the media.

Retribalist ideology and language

Ideologies control not just speech but thought itself. The most successful have a manifesto, a ‘sacred text’ or covenant[10]. Mao’s Little Red Book, the Communist Manifesto, the sacred texts of religions, the US Constitution’s Second Amendment – these are used to symbolise a spiritual, ‘beyond this world’ authority,  disguising the real-life ambitions of those controlling the ideology. 

Since the 1980s the of has been developed as such a manifesto – using two highly effective tactics.

I call the first the transubstantiation tactic.

Here the is transformed from an historical document to a sacred text. This mystical transubstantiation takes the treaty into the realm of the spiritual from where it acquires a doctrinal authority – one to be interpreted for we common folk by a new priesthood – treatyist intellectuals.

Once the ’s unchallengable spiritual authority is established the second tactic comes into play. It is the diversion tactic. This ‘how many angels on a pinhead’ tactic operates by diverting us into echo-chamber squabbles – about the 1840 meaning of this word, that word, this intention, that intention. This is all interesting and important material for historians but our concern should be, not what the said in 1840 – those days are gone – it served the purpose of the time – but what it is being used to say today – and for what purpose.

What about retribalist ideology and education?

Our  education system is indoctrinating children into retribalism. The so-called ‘decolonisation’ and ‘indigenisation’ of the curriculum is the method. This is a disaster. Decolonisation will destroy the very means by which each generation acquires reasoned knowledge, and in so doing, the ability to reason. 

I have described how this ability creates the disposition of partial loyalty that is required to be a citizen. Reasoning provides the rationalism to counter the irrationalism of total loyalty.  By undermining the secular academic curriculum – that which creates the reasoning mind – we are destroying the partially loyal individual. Our fate – to be left with those capable only of mindless total loyalty.

Dissent will not be tolerated!

Politics arises from civil society – from the various conflicting interests of people. That political-civil interaction is what democracy looks like.  But, and this is the crux of my argument,  no interest group  has the right of governance unless the people agree. Elections are that act of agreement – always temporary with the winner always on trial. 

New Zealanders, both Maori and non-Maori, have not been asked to agree to tribalist governance.  If we had been asked would we have agreed?

Tribalism and democracy are incompatible. We can’t have both.  If we wish to keep New Zealand as a liberal democratic nation then, as we derive our citizen rights from the nation-state, so we have a duty to ensure that the nation-state which awards those rights, remains democratic and able to do so.

For our country to remain a liberal democracy, we need to know what democracy is, its true value, and what we must do to restore it.

The agenda is clear – we saw it with the Rotorua bill, with the ECan bill and more.

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