Monday, July 11, 2022

The intriguing circumstances in which Joanna Kidman was appointed to show us the way against hatred and extremism

There’s an intriguing piece in today’s Herald (paywalled) concerning a government about-face over the appointment of University of Otago professor Richard Jackson as director of the spectacularly pompous-sounding National Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism.

David Fisher’s story indicates Jackson, who’s listed on the Otago University website as a professor of peace studies, thought he had the job in the bag. Then the Otago Daily Times ran a story about an internal review which described the university’s National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, of which Jackson was director, as having a “toxic” and “divisive” culture, with “deeply entrenched conflicts”. Whoops; not a good look, as they say.

Jackson was supposed to start in his new job at the NCREPCVE (don’t those initials trip lightly off the tongue?) on March 1, which happened to be the very day the ODT published its damning story. According to the Herald, that unfortunate confluence of events resulted in Jackson being “quietly let go”. Oh, dear.

But this is where it gets really interesting. One of the members of the panel charged with selecting an appointee was Victoria University sociology professor Joanna Kidman. Yes, that Joanna Kidman – the same one who ended up being appointed to the job herself, as a co-director alongside Professor Paul Spoonley. Fancy that!

Kidman’s appointment was announced on June 3, triggering a wave of astonishment and disbelief from people familiar with her inflammatory, derogatory and abusive postings on Twitter.

How did that happen? You might well ask. The way the Herald tells it, Jackson was originally chosen by the panel from a short list of six and interviewed twice. Then a decision was made to appoint two co-directors, and Kidman clearly decided she was eminently qualified for one of the roles herself (“Pick me! Pick me!”), at which point she withdrew from the selection panel and took no further part in any decisions. (Well, she could hardly do otherwise without making an even bigger mockery of what already looked like a grandiose display of government virtue-signalling.)

A new panel was formed, and – hey presto! They chose Kidman. But we’re assured her appointment was subject to the same rigorous assessment as other applicants. (Of course it was; who could be so mean-spirited as to suspect otherwise?)

But instead of Kidman being appointed alongside Jackson, the latter was told he “wasn’t suitable”. That’s apparently when “Distinguished Professor” Spoonley (yep, that’s his official title) was called in to serve as the second co-director.

There are two striking aspects to this. The first is Kidman's obvious self-regard, which will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her egotistical posturing on social media. The other is the unavoidable suspicion that she had the inside running because of her earlier involvement in the selection process - an inside job, in other words. It all looks just a bit too cosy for comfort.

Why the rethink about Jackson? The Herald hints that it was because the commitment to biculturalism at Otago Uni’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies under Jackson was found wanting. In the internal review leaked to the ODT, the centre was criticised for making only a tokenistic commitment to biculturalism and having a “poor grasp of appropriate indigenous protocols”.

That’s kiss-of-death stuff, especially when the appointment guide for the NCREPCVE “placed significant weight”, to quote the Herald, “on incorporating a Maori world view.” There’s your explanation: Jackson, for all his woke credentials, failed to clear the biculturalism hurdle.

There’ll be no such doubts about Kidman, given her outbursts on Twitter. If commitment to biculturalism is measured by the vehement denigration of people she disagrees with (the more so if they happen to have pale skin), Kidman has impeccable credentials. She’s a bully, a bigot and a blowhard – but that’s okay, because she directs her bullying and her bigotry at people who are white and privileged and therefore undoubtedly deserve it. (Kidman claims affiliation with Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Raukawa, although both her surname and her photo suggest there might also be just a tiny bit of Pakeha in her bloodlines. Are we permitted to mention that?)

A few examples of Kidman’s “shoot first and never mind the consequences” style:

■ She labelled the seven eminent academics who opposed equating matauranga Maori with science as “shuffling zombies” and wondered if someone had put something in their water.

■ She accused fashion designer Trelise Cooper of “perpetrating colonial violence in floral polyester” by supposedly naming a dress design after the infamous Trail of Tears – the exile of native American tribes from their homelands in the 19th century – when there was no evidence to suggest Cooper (whose design was called Trail of Tiers) was even aware of the event Kidman was referring to. “Accounts of Native women being raped by settlers and soldiers on the Trail of Tears and the Long Walk of the Navajo don't translate well into a fashion statement ... but hey, Trelise Cooper, guess you're making a living, right?”, Kidman fulminated. (Cooper of course apologised, not that it would have counted for anything. It never does.)

■ She made a direct personal attack on a Herald reporter, asking her if she was “still drunk” – this in response to a column that Kidman evidently disagreed with. (She should be careful; the late Warwick Roger’s Metro magazine once paid out $100,000 in defamation for suggesting a newspaper columnist was “perpetually pssst”.)

■ In another attack on her fellow academics, she tweeted about a statue of Sir George Grey: “nice example of historian-as-bigoted-dickhead to add to the pile of sixty-twelve million reasons why 99 percent of university historians should have a curfew and an ankle tracker.” That some of her posts are so choleric as to be virtually incoherent doesn’t seem to occur to her.

What’s yet to be explained is how the appointment of someone as splenetic and demonstrably out of control as Kidman could possibly be conducive to making New Zealand safer and more inclusive, which is supposedly the purpose of the new centre. An incredulous Martyn Bradbury reacted to the news of her appointment with the headline: “Ummm, isn’t Professor Joanne [sic] Kidman the worst person to appoint to an extremism taskforce?”

Her appointment makes the creation of the NCREPCVE far worse than the mere empty gesture it might otherwise have been. David Seymour got it right when he said “the problem with government appointing cultural enforcers is that the solution can be nastier than the problem”. (Christopher Luxon made no comment. Now there’s a surprise.)

Because Kidman appears to go out of her way to be aggressive and polarising and is therefore the very antithesis of what the centre purportedly stands for, the project has zero credibility and is doomed to fail in its stated purpose – not that this matters to a government set on a course of wilful self-destruction and apparently indifferent to the harm being done to social cohesion in the meantime. Moreover the process by which Kidman was appointed will reinforce the already overwhelming perception that a powerful and entrenched cohort of radical ideologues, acting with the government’s blessing, is moving the country in directions that no voters anticipated – still less approved – when they went to the polls two short years ago.





Don Franks said...

Personal abuse, disregard for fact, dismissive contempt for differing opinion, misrepresentation of others positions, complete disinterest in trying to win people with logical argument.. Joanna Kidman is our Donald Trump.

Trev1 said...

When you're building the Stasi State, you sometimes need to appoint poachers as gamekeepers. Just another indicator of how sinister this regime's intentions are. To all those who voted for this appalling cabal in 2020: hang your heads in shame!

Hiko said...

This government is going all in at full throttle now
No attempt at balance whatsoever

Russell Parkinson said...

This is just the usual left wing behavior, no surprise really.

The important issue is why waste tax payer money on the position, or indeed on the whole department, in the first place.

LNF said...

We (Labour Government) seem to have an appalling record in the employment of top people
This case, the Polytech's, Maori Health Authority, Tutaki.

Karl du Fresne said...

* Tukaki

Brendan McNeill said...

If history is any guide, a National led government will leave her appointment and the department she leads completely intact.

Hilary Taylor said...

My emails to various Ministers about the disgrace that is her appointment all ignored.
My email to her at the time of her original tweets ignored.
My email to the head at Vic all ignored.
I don't care...just making as much trouble as I can.
And what the commenters say above.
This place, this country, this govt...un-freekin'-believable.

Chris Trotter said...

Thank you Karl, for picking up the other half of the necessary response to David Fisher's excellent article. There is something about all this that feels very, very wrong. To read my half, go to The Daily Blog.

Max Ritchie said...

Actually it’s not “usual left-wing behaviour”. Lefties usually much more politically aware, cunning even. This dopey mob has got a death-wish. While I’m pleased to see it, I’m staggered that they are so politically inept. The rest of it is not surprising - the consequence of giving power to a group of people who have never run anything - but the political shemozzle is. Politics is the only thing they have experience in. Obviously slow learners.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for trying

Karl du Fresne said...

I encourage people to read Chris Trotter's post: It shines light on this imbroglio from a different direction.

Andy Espersen said...

Oh - but I cannot wait for the exciting election next year. In the National-ACT coalition the tail will be wagging the dog.

I must tell you all that my immediate reaction to reading this article was to send ACT New Zealand another $100. (Karl never asks for donations - or I might have sent it to him!).

John Hurley said...

He started a field Critical Terrorism Studies. So far CT is a tool to deconstruct power, but wouldn't that field apply to all terrorism? In other words left and right?

This is a definition of Discource from New Discources
Language is not a neutral transmitter of a universal reality. Rather, language is the way we construct reality, the framework we use to give meaning to our experiences and perceptions within a given society. Language is of course cultural, so it is dependent on the historical and social context in which it is used (e.g., color-blindness as a means to end racism is a discourse that would not have made sense before the civil rights movement). Furthermore, language is not just words; it includes all of the ways we communicate with others. Discourses include not only what we say, but also what we don’t say (how we learn what lies under the surface of the iceberg). The scholarly term for language in all of its dimensions is discourse.
This entry in 'Translations from the Wokish' is an explanation of the term "Discourse."
I do not agree that it is necessary to re-introduce 'essentialism' into the discussion. In fact, I think it is dangerous, because it adds fuel to the fire of those who love engaging in 'authenticity talk' to establish that there are no 'real' or 'full-blooded' Maori left in New Zealand anyway, and that consequently nobody can be entitled to anything simply on the grounds of 'being Maori'. The authors should have made clear that it is a strategic essentialism that underlies a commitment to bi-nationalism. Qualifying the essentialism as 'strategic' makes explicit that the Maori nation is constructed as an imagined community with the aim of wrenching power from the 'mainstream', while at the same time avoiding the 'authenticity trap'.

View of Review of Recalling Aotearoa. Indigenous Politics and Ethnic Relations in New Zealand

You don't deconstruct the Spoons?

D'Esterre said...

I've said this about Kidman elsewhere:

"She’s the daughter of Ian and Fiona Kidman. Her mother (well-known to my generation as a writer) is pakeha, her father was of Maori descent. As I understand things, Ian Kidman’s mother was Maori, his father pakeha. Ian Kidman was a remarkable person:

So: she’s indigenous, in the same sense as are all of the rest of us who were born here. I can’t attest to her being a scholar: judging by her tweets, she isn’t anything like as measured and careful with the use of language as were the academics who taught me in the uni system, many years ago.

She comes across as a rabble-rouser. That’s what her intemperate language and complete absence of argument suggest. And in the present febrile climate, we need this sort of person in such a position like we need toothache.

Reading her tweets, I’m reminded of Robert Mugabe. And everyone my age at least, knows how that situation turned out."

I recommend Chris Trotter's post on this topic. In the comment thread, a commenter has posted a tweet which is far more explanatory of this imbroglio than any woke nonsense at Otago university. It vividly illustrates who is actually calling the shots here. And it casts an even poorer light on the government. If that were possible....

John Hurley said...

I doubt that Jackson would be deselected because of an anti-Israeli tweet. As noted by a questioner at the terrorism hui the lack of support for Juliet Moses position was "chilling".
On the other hand the unfathomable situation proposed as bi-nationalism ("Pakeha will loose hegemony" - Spoonley) is real and popular. It is best explained by Woke being a religion that sacrilises (traditionally oppressed) minorities? Tova O'Brien is an adherent as is John Campbell.