Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns


Political Correctness

08/11/2005


Over the years I've paid my dues to many liberal causes. I belonged to the New Zealand Peace Council and later took a leading role fighting New Zealand's involvement in Vietnam. I voted for the DPB in 1973 and chaired the first parliamentary select committee to consider a bill legalising homosexuality in 1974. I've always supported a woman's right to choose an abortion, and have strongly favoured their rights to equality. Racial discrimination gets to me where I live: at graduate school in America's Deep South I joined picket lines against restaurants refusing to serve Blacks, then marched in 1981 against the Springbok Tour. I spent a decade on the Waitangi Tribunal hoping to help Maori help themselves. If I had to explain all this involvement it would be because of a deep feeling that society should try to be fair to everyone. That's why I'm interested in Don Brash's identifying political correctness as an issue that has gone too far.

One of the things I've noticed is that campaigners for causes are seldom fitted with "pause" buttons. Once they programme themselves to crusade, many never pause to ask whether the end goal that inspired them in the first place has been achieved, or whether continuing the struggle might hurt more people than it helps. Let me cite examples. When we pushed for rights for homosexuals we weren't intent on making it compulsory. Many of today's crusaders sound like they do. A woman's right to choose, her right to equality, and access to a DPB didn't mean that abortion was the best form of birth control, or that women should be employed ahead of men if there was a man better qualified for the job. It certainly didn't mean equal pay for unequal job commitment. Nor did it mean that by advancing women's causes we rejected adoption as an option, preferring instead that a woman bring up her child on a benefit. Some women's rights advocates even seem to think they must oppose heterosexual relations. Remember London's Labour Wandsworth Council insisting 15 years ago that portraits of Charles and Diana be removed from the Council chamber because they "celebrated heterosexuality"? And the more the evidence builds up that social problems are linked to single parenting and the mushrooming beneficiary culture, the more those lacking a "pause" button keep pushing for bigger benefits. Their solution invariably leads to more single parenting, more child underachievement, more crime, and more poverty. Worse, if one asks where the good causes went wrong, some bossy crusader or pink journalist pounces on the questioner, and overlooks the question.

Wait, there's more. My generation struggled for racial equality. It meant equal rights for all races. Somewhere along the line, the advance guards perverted that to mean that all cultures are equal. Nonsense. Over time some cultures became sophisticated; others remained rudimentary. The Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey has observed that when the British arrived in Botany Bay in 1788 a culture that had experienced the first industrial revolution and invented the steam engine came face to face with a culture that didn't know how to boil water. In today's claustrophobic intellectual environment the politically correct try to stop you saying such things. If a Maori minority asserts there is a taniwha along a projected route, or that women must accept second-rate status on marae, then this must be accepted. Nor should we question powhiri at Pakeha gatherings; Maori rights are superior to Pakeha's because Maori are the minority. As a general rule, when a campaign to help minorities or the disadvantaged becomes a crusade to privilege its own advocates, it loses touch with reality.

Political correctness stifles investigation, too. A landlord recently refused to rent to Maori, claiming a high incidence of unpaid rent and excessive property damage. Did anyone explore his claim? Not on your Nelly. Instead we got a silly homily from the Race Relations Conciliator. The issue vanished. What I wanted to know is did the landlord have a case? If he did, then maybe his attitude was understandable. If not, the landlord should be held to account for false generalisations. Instead, everyone seems to have been frightened away from the debate.

Political correctness pushes valid views to extremes, then claims some superior human right to justify those excesses, then stifles legitimate investigation and debate. Let's expose this nonsense before crusading do-gooders completely destroy the public standing of the minorities they claim to be assisting.