Thursday, February 11, 2016

The arrogance of the self-righteous

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, February 10.)

A letter in Wellington’s Dominion Post last week said that if you wanted a good reason to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, you only needed to look at the people supporting it.
Funny, here was me thinking exactly the opposite. You could turn that statement around 180 degrees and be right on the nail.

The protest rallies that coincided with the signing of the TPPA in Auckland brought out a ragtag, bad-tempered mob eager to seize any excuse to legitimise their anger at the world at large.
And they didn’t stop at merely protesting. With all the customary arrogance of the self-righteous, they decided their cause entitled them to disrupt other people’s lives by blocking streets and paralysing traffic.

A few marchers signalled their criminal intent by concealing themselves behind masks. It’s easy to be bold when you’re anonymous.
Some hothead went so far as to firebomb a cabinet minister’s electorate office. When idealism morphs into acts of violence, protesters relinquish any right to be heard.

It’s sometimes argued that it takes extreme action to be noticed, but I don’t buy it. This is where I parted company with many of my fellow demonstrators during the 1981 Springbok tour. The right to protest stops when it interferes with the rights of other citizens.
The TPPA also gave fresh oxygen to Waitangi Day activists, who justified their latest ritual display of rage on the novel premise that as Maori (however that word might be defined), they were entitled to special consultation.  

At Waitangi, Steven Joyce was hit in the face with a rubber sex toy. That the thrower, Josie Butler, escaped prosecution (as did those who mischievously blocked Auckland intersections the previous day) left the police looking lame and ineffectual.  
“No charges laid woohoo!” Butler tweeted triumphantly. No doubt she will have become an overnight hero of the Left, who are too absorbed in their own sanctimonious bubble to realise that offensive protest gestures ultimately boost support for the National government and play into the hands of the law-and-order lobby.   

If it wasn’t the TPPA, the protesters would doubtless have found some other issue to feel inflamed about. But the multi-country trade agreement has become a lightning rod for a great deal of unfocused rage about a whole lot of things – a one-size-fits-all cause for the chronically disaffected.
It has served as a convenient rallying point for everyone nursing a grudge about the government, John Key, globalisation, the Treaty, capitalism, inequality; in short, every real or imagined assault on the downtrodden and disadvantaged.

Much of the rage has been informed by emotion rather than facts. A lot of the participants in the protests were young and apparently unencumbered by knowledge.
That’s the prerogative of youth, I suppose. It’s a time of life when idealism hasn’t yet been tempered by real-life experience.

I still haven’t entirely made up my mind about the TTPA. The secrecy surrounding the negotiations was bound to arouse suspicion, but that’s the nature of trade deals.
It certainly didn’t help that the government chose Sky City – a symbol of global capitalism in its most vulgar form – as the venue for the signing. How clumsily provocative was that?

But we’ll be in a better position to judge the agreement once it’s tabled and debated in Parliament. In the meantime, we need to remember that no country is forced to ratify it, and even those that do may choose later to withdraw if they feel disadvantaged by its terms. The rabid opponents don’t mention this.
Until we know more, I’m prepared to put my faith in respected, neutral commentators such as the Wellington business writer Patrick Smellie.

In an article last week, Smellie applied a reality check to much of the overheated rhetoric surrounding the TPPA.
He pointed out, for example, that while New Zealand opponents claim the agreement serves American corporate interests, American politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties are arguing that it shouldn’t be ratified because it’s tilted against the US. They can’t all be right.

Smellie also made the point that American drug companies, supposedly the sinister manipulators behind the scenes of the TPPA talks, had been defeated when they sought 12-year patent protection for their products. These facts are strikingly at odds with the claims of the hysterical anti-globalists.
As with any such deal, there were tradeoffs – a win here, a concession there. But until any disadvantage to New Zealand is proved, we should reserve judgment.

After all, if the TPPA turns out not to be in our best interests, we can toss out the people responsible. That’s the most potent check on any politician who might be tempted to betray us.
In any case, what are the alternatives? We live in a global world whose steadily rising prosperity depends on the exchange of goods and services.

Presumably the protesters would prefer us to raise the drawbridge and retreat into some dreamy socialist Utopian fortress where we could pretend the rest of the planet doesn’t exist.
North Korea has tried that. It doesn’t seem to work.


Brendan McNeill said...


I'm sure there are winners and losers in the TPP deal. Listening to National Radio someone reported that John Campbell interviewed a number of 'protesters' and none could articulate why they were there. John Campbell is hardly in the thrall of right wing National Party conservatism, but he could find not one person.

We live in perilous times.

Trust in politicians is at an all time low. The alternative is what? Anarchy? or as might happen in Europe on the basis of demographics alone over the next 20 years, Islam?

We need to forsake our petty ideologies and begin to focus on the main thing. What' makes us uniquely New Zealanders and are we able to strengthen that which remains?

Jigsaw said...

I listened to that and it was obvious that John Campbell couldn't find a single protester who could articulate a reason for their opposition to the TPP but then he didn't talk to Chris Trotter who was there and not only could have done so but found the whole experience uplifting and he in fact sensed the beginning of a whole new political movement right there and then! Now doubt others were also swept up in the excitement of being there and had or even more extreme (if that's possible) or at least similar illusions.