Super Polarise Me:  Why can’t we have a sensible conversation about immigration?

Have you ever made what you thought was a reasonable point about immigration, only to be immediately derided as some sort of ‘bigoted asshole’ or ‘deluded liberal’?

You could be exactly one of those things. Or, you could be neither.

It could be you are just trying to make sense of a world which you know little of beyond newspapers and television. Maybe you have already picked a ‘side’ to the debate thinking there were only two options; a false dilemma presented via these limited media offerings.

Deluded liberals have been ‘telling off’ bigoted assholes for a while now, and as such many bigoted assholes have learned to STFU and wait to express themselves at the ballot box – a place they can make a whole heap of collective noise without fear of public shaming.

It started about 20 years ago when the children of bigoted assholes voted in a more toxic round of bigoted assholes to represent them. Fearing a shrinking support base, representatives of bigoted assholes took a ‘fresh’ approach. Looking outward, bigoted assholes after no longer rallied against the new found rights of the indigenous persons in settler countries, they instead sought to demonize newly arrived minorities.

In 1996, bigoted assholes voted Pauline Hanson into the Australian Parliament. In New Zealand, Winston Peters evolved into a bigoted asshole. Then the bigoted assholes in France gave Jean-Marie Le Pen a shot at becoming President. A decade or so later, the biggest bigoted asshole of them all was elected President of the United States.

There is no shortage of academic literature, often written by deluded liberals, explaining how the politicians representing bigoted assholes have come to be so powerful. But very little of it critiques how they themselves, those within the intelligentsia, have failed to usefully reason with bigoted assholes.   

On the campaign trail, deluded liberals want anything from dramatic increases in immigrants to literally open borders. They will point to the hopelessness that pervades developing countries and the misery of war torn nations, they demand that we agree to take more refugees than ever before and ask fewer questions on their arrival. Quite often, deluded liberals don’t believe in God, but they are willing to import thousands of immigrants that do.

Anyone that dares question the moral superiority of deluded liberals will immediately be labelled a bigot, or in fact, a bigoted asshole.

Rather disingenuously, bigoted assholes will often suggest that before accepting foreigners, we should do a better job ‘looking after our own’. The bigoted asshole will point to inequality at home, despite regularly voting for parties that offer virtually no respite for those in need.  More often than not, the bigoted asshole will have a disproportionate fear of terrorism and will link that to immigrants.

At best, bigoted assholes seem oblivious to the fact that if it were not for immigrants working in our hospitals, IT departments, aged care and correctional facilities, our core public services would be in [even more of] a perpetual state of crisis.  

Bigoted assholes and deluded liberals have one thing in common though, they are tribal in their beliefs.

The polemic nature of immigration debates (all over the Western world) results in the ‘shout down’ of some fairly reasonable quantitative measures, while populists dog whistle to the lowest common denominators of their base and ensure that any meaningful discussions will quickly devolve into a spectacle where race and culture are conflated and confused.

The plague of polarization extends throughout the Anglosphere and acts to stifle any constructive discussion about how we best integrate new migrants into our respective democracies. The media then feeds this chasm of political cooperation by frequently reporting the immigration politics in other parts of the West, through practically useless 60 second sound bites that provide virtually no critical perspective.

Politically, the bigoted assholes are winning. But they are aided by deluded liberals who have long since abandoned ‘real politics’ for deeper and more abstract philosophical discourse.

So why is it we can’t we have a sensible conversation about immigration?  

Instead of scoffing at the proposition, notwithstanding the oft used postmodern critique, are deluded liberals really sure that we can’t identify a small but crucial set of universal values? Long before the cultural relativism bus rolled into town, most philosophers agreed that a universal understanding of what is fundamentally good (or bad) is innate in every human.  

Is it fair to say that these values that form a part of our liberal democracy, are not always the construct of dark hegemonic forces – and that to dismiss them in such a manner is, frankly, absurd?

Meanwhile, can the bigoted assholes accept how useless ‘citizenship tests’ are, particularly when they themselves would be unlikely to pass such a test? Could they ponder for a moment the ridiculousness of having a test that evaluates someone’s adherence to white-anglo norms in a land where their ancestors invaded and displaced those that once had their own set of norms?

Can we not critically evaluate issues that are linked to immigration without such discussions immediately devolving into an ideological shit fight?

It doesn’t seem that way.

I have some ideas, but I don’t want to labelled a deluded liberal or a bigoted asshole.

TL;DR?  Bigoted assholes want more assurances, deluded liberals want a more caring approach to migrants – these two things are needn’t be mutually exclusive of one another.

Peek-a-Boo! Aren’t you a cute widdle taxpayer…

Tax cuts bring voters to the yard the same way babies are enchanted by a game of peek-a-boo, and a good game of peek-a-boo never gets old. The theory surrounding peek-a-boo’s longevity is ‘object permanence’. In other words, babies find the game fun because there is an element of predictability about the outcome.

Last week New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English traded questionable pizza toppings for adulthood by popping up on TV to ‘surprise’ the country’s voters. English stated that if the trajectory toward surpluses continues, taxes in one form or another will continue to fall. The excitement among middle class New Zealand was palpable, and it is perhaps one of the many reasons National has been coasting toward a 4th term in Government.

Not everyone is happy though. Some New Zealanders are contending, or dare I say lecturing, the rest of the country in what they believe is being overlooked; government expenditure will need to be increased in real terms if core public services are to be maintained at the rate which they are currently.

So in times of ‘excess’ milk & honey, Governments can either hand money back (in the way Mr English has prescribed), pump it into public services or put some of it aside for a rainy day. In essence, that is the crossroads New Zealand is at right now, we are hauling in about 2% more than we are spending which leads to a question of what we should do with the leftovers.

To inform that discussion we should perhaps be looking across the ditch.

In Australia, the opposite is taking place. With an economy no longer buoyant from activity in the resources sector, growth has been stalling while budget deficits have become the norm. Meanwhile, the public have enjoyed tax cuts in the past decade furthered by both major political parties.

To reverse such deficits the Australian government has 3 options at its disposal:

1. Further rein in costs; or
2. Issue debt; or
3. Grow revenue.

In other words, once all that possible ‘efficiency’ in the public service has been realised (option 1) the government can either fund excess spending through loans (option 2) or increased taxation (option 3).

And that is where Australian politicians are trapped; however you look at it, tax increases are political suicide. If you’re a millennial voter in Australia, the effective personal tax rate paid by your parents has only ever fallen throughout your lifetime. So, good luck telling millennials that their taxes need to increase at the same time they’re trying to save 80k for the deposit on a house. Equally, you will get short shrift telling boomers they will need to open their wallet at the exact time they are making a final dash toward retirement. That only leaves deficits, and a government that campaigned on ending them.

The conditioning of voters to accept tax increases under no circumstances is a concern that has frustrated both economists and academics alike, “Why do Joe Public continually demand tax cuts and still expect the central government to provide a high quality of services?”. In a recent Political Science Association Conference I recall similar sentiments; academic staff were musing as to whether the public understand how the ‘social contract’ extends to taxation. “Have these ghastly neoliberal oligarchs brainwashed the populace into believing that lower personal taxes will lead to unfettered, year on year prosperity for all and sundry?” cried one, into his empty champagne flute.

Irrespective of the cause, rhyme or reason, increasing taxes to cover shrinking revenue, after years of reducing them in various ways, is a bit like changing up a game of peek-a-boo. Suggesting that taxes be increased to pay for stuff may sound plausible, but it creates uncertainty, which makes the game less fun. In effect, it would be akin to disappearing mid peek-a-boo and then having another adult continue the game.

So, if Mr English does indeed win in September he’ll need to decide how long he wishes to keep up the game with taxpayers before the political establishment becomes locked into a cycle of deficits. Because if it gets to that point, the toys really will go out of the cot.

TL;DR? Taxes are more offensive than spaghetti pineapple pizza, but if we keep cutting them, so help your God if we never need to raise them.

America – Making yachting great (again).

I don’t know if yachting was ever ‘great’. Maybe it was for the Aussies when they won in 1983, or for our boys in 1995 and again in 1999. But every four years, I am obliged by my duty as a Kiwi to check in and support the latest iteration of Emirates-Toyota-Nespresso-Omega-Steinlager Team New Zealand. Whether this fulfills some sort of benign nationalistic sentiment, or just the nostalgia of hearing Peter Montgomery’s voice again, I’m not really sure.

I loathe the experience much less now than what I once did. Nowadays the boats are actually fast, they literally fly above the water and the lead can frequently change hands. This means I don’t need to expend much energy exhibiting faux support for a sport I don’t really understand. And after 20 odd minutes, I can absorb the result and start considering which Maccas breakfast bagel I’d like to start the day with.  After All, the golden arches of a supposedly ‘culture-less’ America are a pretty satisfying way to celebrate our successes over Uncle Sam.

Back when I was a teenager, the America’s Cup was different. There were two boats that would move to opposite ends of a playing circuit. They would awkwardly eyeball each other, moving closer and then further away again.  The process would repeat for a few painful hours as they sailed up and down the same space a few times. Eventually a gun would go off signalling an end to proceedings and the facade of a ‘good day’s racing’ would be over. For that reason watching the America’s Cup in the 1990’s was eerily similar to the church sanctioned dances I was allowed to attend around that time – lots of jibing and not a lot of action.

So, we should thank Oracle – because they have made a yachting competition mildly interesting. But we won’t because it’s Oracle. Ellison, Coutts, and Spithill may as well be the incarnation of Hades’ underworld. It is a characterisation all too willingly portrayed by our media; a ‘rich’ American, a ‘sellout’ Kiwi and an ‘arrogant’ Australian. Alas, the classic Kiwi pastime – loosely categorising our not-even-bro adversaries on the basis of some overly generalised personality trait. Tell me, why is it is that the Aussie and American yachting professionals that joined our team are not subject to the same vitriol from the New Zealand media? Hurr Durr, New Zealand *waves flag*. It seems that wherever possible, Americans especially should be condemned.

For what though? It appears through talking to my fellow countrymen that the current gripe is that these pesky Americans are coming to our shores and spending shitloads of money. Oh, how dare they!  Frankly, it is this boneheaded logic that continues to dominate the talking points of middle class New Zealand, a small town-style insecurity. Once upon time it was not that they were ‘rich’ but that they were ‘dumb’, remember that? Apparently, most Americans couldn’t even locate where New Zealand was on a map – we were outraged. Then the LOTR series came along, as well as Google and Lorde, and all of a sudden we got cool.

Sorry, I meant – they got cool.

See, Americans learned where to find New Zealand – while we stood, hands on hips. Which I find odd because the average Kiwi still cannot point to Georgia on a map. You know, that state which is twice our size. The place that has hosted a modern Olympics and was the birthplace of Julia Roberts, Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King? Yeah, that place.

We also offer scant acknowledgement of the millions of dollars Oracle and other syndicates have spent building yachts in New Zealand.  Or that they have hired New Zealanders to customise, test, race and repair them. Instead, many Kiwis will continue to bemoan the entire event, wherever it takes place. “How could one extol such a waste of taxpayers’ money?” they ask. Never mind that our mere participation in such events is an enviable marketing platform for our booming tourism sector. Heck, that’s not even counting if we actually win the damn thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I do hope we win next week. I hope we kick Oracle’s ass. Watching Spithill eat his own smug face would make for great TV, heck I might even watch it. But if we lose I’m not going to throw a tantrum, I am not going to whinge that the other side bent the rules to suit them. Because, like much of the angst Kiwis have towards everything that is American, it could be deemed to be just a little bit too hypocritical.

TL;DR?  Popularity is best served with a side of humility.  Lets support our yachting team and everyone else that supports our country.


Explaining privilege – without getting a latte to the face.

Sitting in an undergraduate class a few years back I remember the lecturer, a middle class white woman, asking each of the straight white men (SWM) to explain what they thought of SWM privilege. I yawned and most dudes in the room slumped in their seats. We were either unamused at the prospect of being labelled ‘privileged’ or unimpressed by a woman suggesting it, or both. She was one of those rusted on Social Justice Warriors that would often use her lectures to make crude and not so coded political arguments (and other ‘trendy shit’). As had become a pattern during the semester, I had already registered my ambivalence by getting drunk the night before. Some of the SWM used the pulpit to exhibit their confidence in confronting a female lecturer to disagree entirely with the notion that they were privileged.   

I never saw myself in a position of privilege to start with. As such, it was pointless giving the notion any further thought. I’m privileged? Lol, wot? What about height privilege! I am 5 ft 7 (does she not know how much harder it is to ‘pick up’, than say 5 ft 11?), my hair was falling out too and I had a 60k student loan and a train wreck of false career starts. At that time I felt there was really only one sensible response to a woman suggesting to me that I was privileged: Fuck you.

Though not long after, I met two young and unemployed indigenous women while out and about in the community. Their grades had been pretty good prior to leaving high school and so I suggested they attend a foundation studies course at the local University. As I was providing the link between the University, their home environment and social services I figured that they would do alright.  

In the week preceding their studies I took one of the young women to a social services office so she could switch her income support to a tertiary funding arrangement. Her case manager offered these words in support:

‘You do realise there’s a stand down period if you need to reapply for dole, don’t you.  What are you going to do when you drop out?’

My mouth opened and closed like a goldfish.  

Despite their initial enthusiasm, both started missing classes after the first 2 weeks. By week 8 both had left the programme despite one still comfortably passing. I asked them both what happened, and they both said the same things, ‘they didn’t feel like it was a place for them’ and that ‘none of their other friends went to uni’. The whole experience led to some painful introspection. I had blindly assumed that by bringing these young women into a new environment, a place I perceived as offering ‘limitless opportunities’, I had magically altered the trajectory of their lives for the better.  

Privilege can be loosely defined as acquiring an otherwise hidden knowledge of how to go about something, having an assumed competence or proficiency in something or having a more illuminated pathway toward something (that is less accessible by others).  I had all of these things on my first day at University: family members that had attended University, some even at the same institution; strong references from high school teachers; and an abundance of people wandering around campus who looked like me and talked like me.  As McIntosh points out, privilege is the invisible system conferring dominance to a particular group in society. It is a virtue of certain individual characteristics not of your own making (such as your sexuality, skin colour or gender).  

So where do short, going bald, broke af SWM fit into this discussion?

Well, let us transpose for a moment two persons with the same basket of circumstances. They are both 5 ft 7 and are ageing faster than they would like, both are deep in student debt and both have gone in circles trying to establish a career. Now assume that you could choose to be one of these people + a SWM or a Gay Brown Female (GBF), and that your goal in life is upward mobility.  Who stands a better shot at turning all these things around? Considering all the structural disadvantages at play for females, homosexuals and ethnic minorities, you would surely respond with SWM. And that is what SWM privilege is, a relative term. Your life could still be pretty shit, even as an SWM. It could even be more shit than every GBF you know,but chances are you wouldn’t know many GBFs anyway.  

So is there someone else to blame for not explaining that SWM privilege is a relative thing or have SWM, like myself, never really been interested in hearing about it in the first place? I don’t know the answer to that question. But the implications are important for election campaigns taking place in liberal democracies all over the world. Just ask someone like Jeremy Corbyn, whose own UK Labour Party is desperately trying to win back the support of working class voters who are now more likely to vote for the Conservative Party. Wait, what? So working class people are now more likely to vote for tax cuts and a reduction in the outlay of social services?  How the fuck did that happen? 

Is it because they fled Labour after being confronted with their privilege? Or, am I now the one making crude and not so coded political arguments?  

TL;DR?  SWM privilege is a thing, in relative terms.  I started wearing hats in 2010.

Why they can’t impeach him, yet.

Conduct a quick Google search of US President ‘Donald Trump’ right now and you’ll no doubt find someone of political purpose suggesting the real estate mogul and TV star is heading down the road toward impeachment – a congressional ‘you’re fired’ of sorts.  The catalyst for such murmurings was itself the sensational firing of FBI director James Comey a few days ago. Ccorrespondents were quick to compare Trump’s actions with President Nixon’s attempt to shut down investigations into what was then his own alleged wrongdoing. (Spoiler alert: Nixon did end up being a crook and was eulogized in such a way by his decades long adversary, the writer Hunter S. Thompson).

Be that as it may, impeachment can’t happen – not yet and not for a while – and not just for the reasons already stated.  It has already been pointed out that Nixon’s demise was not an overnight affair, removing a sitting president is a more convoluted process than the ‘slash and burn’ nature of the New York businessman’s previous experiences in the corporate world.  But institutional factors and constitutional due process are only part of the puzzle, there is a more thorny reason that only the most audacious congressperson would ignore before supporting the impeachment of President Trump: His 45 million or so red blooded, rusted on supporters.  Yes, his popular vote was some 63 million, but with every President there’s a core constituency and a soft vote. Trump’s hard-to-dissuade core is probably somewhere around this 45 million mark and they are going to take longer to change their minds.   

Such is the political culture of US election cycles, the executive branch (those who require the support of Congress and the Senate to advance their legislative agenda) are in a perpetual cycle of campaigning.  Trump has so far avoided questions of conflicting interests by having his business empire bill his 2020 re-election campaign for services ranging from hotel accommodation to golf clubs.  But 2020 is a long way away, what matters is the 2018 midterms and that is a campaign already in full swing. All 435 seats in congress are up for the taking, or more to the point, 435 Republican congressional primaries for some 200 odd Republicans who will likely be seeking re-election.  Add to that a handful of Republicans up for re-election in the senate, in the deep red states of Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Texas.

Democrats, many of whom still speak with a level of incredulity about the presence of Trump in the White House, have dedicated the past 4 months to picking apart each of his orange glazed gaffes and hypocritical backflips.  Meanwhile, the same commentators point to a decline in Trump’s popularity, some 10% since his inauguration according to RealClearPolitics.  They hope that as a potential indictment becomes closer to materialising it can be married to a swift impeachment process with the blessing of a voting constituency outraged by a man they once trusted to be their commander and chief.

Delusion is indeed a powerful drug, for every rant featuring in liberal leaning publications that seek to debase a man they claim has already filed for moral bankruptcy; there is one simple appointment that overrides the mood of Conservative voters:  Neil Gorsuch.  Long will it be forgotten that it was the establishment Republicans who stalled the nomination of a Supreme Court nominee until after the 2016 election.  It was Trump that promised to crush the Clintons and install a conservative Chief Justice – and that is exactly what he did.  Whether Trump had some help from outside influences is virtually a red herring in the minds of those still smarting at the idea that gay couples can order a cake from their shop (and eat it).    

So the political reality for Republican lawmakers is that Trump’s support is still strong among the very people who will decide the fate of such lawmakers in the aforementioned primaries.  The religious fervour of his supporters can be mobilised in numbers substantively higher than what has been accomplished by the Tea Party in recent congressional elections.  And like the Tea Party, he could quite easily direct his faithful to stand against the incumbents wavering from the platform of populist conjecture he rode into the White house.  While the Tea Party arguably peaked as a movement in 2014, and with only limited actual successes, it showed that incumbency is neither sacrosanct nor guaranteed.  This is now the blueprint for an embattled President, with all the powers that the apparatus of the executive branch of Government brings.

Unlikely you say?  About as unlikely as Trump Presidency, one would have thought.

TL;DR?  Getting your man nominated to the Supreme Court > Everything else. Impeachment won’t happen till 2019, if at all.