Shane Te Pou: Air grievances but do so in good faith

OPINION:

A core unifying belief that binds conservatives the world over is the conviction that they are victims of a prevailing and censorious – or “woke” – orthodoxy whose adherents are primed to punish them for their heresies.

This is an article of faith on the right and is far and away the preferred subject of conversation over and above anything pertaining to social and political views that presumably cause them to be conservative in the first place.

This cancel culture canard allows them to adopt a besieged posture of defiance without saying out loud what it is they feel they are being prohibited from saying. It operates therefore mostly as a self-imposed set of prohibitions because, speaking as a progressive, I’m actually genuinely curious about what conservatives who, after all, comprise a significant portion of the electorate are thinking on the major issues of the day.

Simon Henry clearly felt liberated from oppressive speech codes when he criticised My Food Bag for including a photo of Nadia Lim in their prospectus, going on to refer to Lim as “Eurasian fluff” – even suggesting it somehow undermined the company’s performance.

Like most people I was appalled by his statements, which had a particular resonance in my own Māori/Chinese household. But it also gave me cause to reflect on how such degrading treatment of women had been commonplace not that many years ago. While I don’t confess to have been an especially lurid locker-room talker, I have to acknowledge I was complicit in many conversations where women, present or otherwise, were discussed in offensive and demeaning ways. I’m sure there are countless times women walked away from social settings in which I was involved feeling discomfort with the macho banter we accepted as normal back then. I am sorry for all of that.

Over time, my sisters (literal or otherwise) along with my wife and many women I count as friends, have helped me understand how this kind of casual sexism, and treatment of women as objects for comment and comparison, is wholly unacceptable.

The unanimous repulsion that greetedHenry’s outburst makes it pretty clear what was once acceptable is no longer, a point sheeted home by Lim herself who deftly made the issue not about herself, but about younger women who should not be forced to endure this nonsense. Is the fact a rich lister businessmen can no longer treat women with impunity – or at least not without significant blowback to their reputations – reflective of a “cancel culture”?

Or does it simply reflect a responsive culture, one where what constitutes acceptable discourse evolves in light of shifting collective values? Isn’t this just what cultures do?

During the 1990s, during early Treaty negotiations, the most predictable talking point against the settlements was along the lines of “those Māoris will just p*** it up the wall”. Versions of this were said openly and all the time, including by high-profile media personalities and political leaders.

Anyone trying to resuscitate that line of argument today would indeed meet a furious reaction, not only because it is patently racist but because our experience with Treaty settlements could not be further from such a characterisation.

It also used to be okay for people like me who work in human resources to ask women candidates whether they had imminent plans for pregnancy. If I asked that today, I would be fired. Is that a bad thing?

Gay friends of mine tell me it’s really only in the past five to 10 years they’ve felt comfortable talking about their partners or children in the workplace. For them, this evolution in attitudes has been liberating not cancelling.

If conservatives feel aggrieved, let them air their grievances. But is it too much to ask them to do so in some good faith, without the accompanying mockery of so-called wokeness.

If you oppose iwi involvement in governing resources, tell us why and give us an alternative. If you don’t like the Māori Health Authority model, don’t just call it a name and leave it at that. Tell us why the status quo is preferable or what you would do instead. If you’re uncomfortable with shifting norms around gender identity, don’t persecute an already vulnerable minority; have a grown up discussion that keeps the matter in perspective and doesn’t seek to victimise children.

I’m not interested in shaming conservatives. In fact, I’d like to hear more from them on the reasoning behind the views they hold but feel reluctant to espouse. Across the broad sweep of history, the progressive impulse has benefited from the restraint offered by conservatives. That push and pull is an essential feature of our democratic tradition, but it ceases to function usefully if either or both sides reduce the other to cartoonish stereotypes or sworn enemies.

Shane Te Pou (Ngai Tuhoe) is a company director at Mega Ltd, a commentator and blogger and a former Labour Party activist.

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