I supposed I should be alarmed, but I’m not, for two reasons. One is that academia has so recklessly squandered its credibility that we should pay no more heed to the opinion of a professor of “communication” – least of all an imported zealot from the far Left – than to that of the local barber.
The other is that I’m no longer sure what the Far Right is. The term was once reserved for outfits like the Ku Klux Klan and Britain’s National Front, neither of which was active, still less influential, here.
Far Right groups have never secured a political foothold in phlegmatic New Zealand. That remains true despite feverish scaremongering from conspiracy theorists at the Disinformation Project and their media cheerleaders (RNZ’s Susie Ferguson’s dishonest Undercurrent podcast being the latest example). If conspiracy theories are flourishing and paranoia is rampant, then ironically it’s largely due to the efforts of the people who purport to be protecting us from it.
If the same alarmists are to be believed, the term “far Right” now extends to organisations such as Speak Up for Women (which promotes the supposedly radical view that the definition of woman is “adult human female”), the anti-mandate group Voices for Freedom and the farmers’ lobby Groundswell. None of these organisations could be categorised as extremist. Rather, they could be said to have sprung up in response to extremism. They are legitimate pressure groups whose policies and actions should be seen (and would have been, in less hysterical times) as part of the healthy and normal contest of ideas that sustains a mature, liberal democracy.
In the media, the term “far Right” is used equally loosely. Marginally right-of-centre parties such as National are tolerated (although barely) just as long as they humour the media by pusillanimously falling into line with the latest woke diktats. Any genuine conservative, however, risks being demonised as far Right – the more so if they are foolish enough to identify as Christian.
But back to Mohan Dutta (whose attack on me, incidentally, is published under the official imprint of Massey University – the same government institution that cancelled Don Brash).
I don’t dispute Dutta’s entitlement to a right of reply after I took a whack at him. Neither do I dispute his right to call me a member of the far Right, even though the term has been rendered virtually meaningless. But I suspect he’ll have more trouble substantiating his characterisation of me than I will my characterisation of him as a neo-Marxist. In fact I invite him to debate me face-to-face to determine which is the more accurate.
I’ll even give him some helpful tips. One is to make sure of his facts. Dutta says I wrote my “hit piece” for Sean Plunket's The Platform. Wrong. That might be where his bitter and disaffected informant (whom I take to be Ben McKay of Australian Associated Press) saw it, but I don’t write for The Platform. The article was written for my blog, as all my pieces are, and republished with permission. I suspect that in Dutta's fevered imagination, Sean Plunket and I are part of the same far-Right conspiracy. In fact The Platform exists only because of the need for a conservative outlet to counter the overwhelming ideological imbalance in the established media.
Dutta goes on to associate me with an “organised” far-Right attack on the “communications and media studies pedagogy” and links to a series of articles which he seems to think prove his point. But nearly all his reference points are from the US and therefore irrelevant. Citing a Washington Post article by a leftist US academic railing against “the US-Infowars-Bannon-Trump-DeSantis-Tucker-Carlson hate machinery” doesn’t get us anywhere. I recognise these names, but that’s all. What little I know about these people, I dislike. (The exception is Trump, about whom I know a lot – in fact more than I want – and whom I detest.)
Elsewhere, Dutta accuses me of “parroting the US-based white supremacist agenda” – this, after saying in his first line that he had never previously heard of me. That being the case, on what basis does Dutta accuse me of pushing a white supremacist agenda? The claim would be defamatory if anyone took it seriously, but the blog post he objects to made no mention of race. In fact I challenge him to find anything I’ve written, in more than five decades as a journalist and columnist, that could remotely be construed as taking a white supremacist line.
No doubt it suits Dutta to resort lazily to overheated American polemics, to frame my post as part of a global far-Right conspiracy and to accuse me of “replicating American far-Right talking points”. Perhaps it’s the only way he can make sense of it in his conspiracy-obsessed world. He seems confused about which country he’s in. But it would be helpful if he could stick to talking about New Zealand, since that’s where we are.
New Zealand is not the US and for the record, I’m not part of an organised anything. I’m a lone blogger in a provincial town and I own all my own opinions – right or wrong, good or bad, fatuous or inspired. I don’t have the backing of a substantial, taxpayer-funded academic institution and the only political organisation I have any association with is the Free Speech Union, which would defend Dutta’s rights as vigorously as it would mine.
Moreover I’m not on social media and wouldn’t have a clue how to access the supposedly toxic rhetoric spouted by the noisy American extremists Dutta refers to. That’s assuming I’m interested in the first place, which I’m not. Other than the FSU, I have no links with anyone. I’m the original Mr Clean.
Oh, and another thing. Dutta objected to my criticism of his impenetrable writing style, then proceeded to prove my point with passages like this: “The white supremacist hegemony of the far-right sees the organising for justice from the margins as threatening to the status quo. Its conspiracy web therefore communicatively inverts materiality, inverting historic processes of racist marginalisation on their head to portray voices advocating for social justice as the elites occupying power.” He goes on to say that I’m “drawing from misinformation-based discursive frames weaved [sic] by the alt Right”.
Comically, he suggests it’s my job as a journalist to translate this obscurantist crap, to which I say: bullshit. It shouldn’t need translating; the onus is on him to express himself clearly. Clarity of language denotes clarity of thinking, and the reverse – which applies in his case – is equally true.
To be fair, Dutta is occasionally unambiguous. There’s no misunderstanding him when he refers to the culture wars being “a far-right mobilisation of white supremacist cultural nationalism … in continuity with the racist colonial infrastructure of Aotearoa”. It was helpful of him to provide this tiny sample of the toxic ideological gruel presumably served up to gullible communication and media studies students at Massey.
And he did touch on another important point: “Accountability to the taxpayer is one of the key resources in the mobilisation of the far-right. Designating themselves as gatekeepers, as representatives and advocates of the voices of the tax payer, far-right individuals and organisations launch their attacks on academic freedom by claiming that the research and teaching on questions of social justice are a waste of taxpayer money.” Note how Dutta invokes academic freedom while conveniently avoiding the even more fundamental principle of accountability for the spending of public money. He would presumably prefer this to be left to the academics, free from critical outside scrutiny. But insistence on accountability to the taxpayer can hardly be dismissed as a fetish of the extreme Right. It’s a fundamental mechanism without which democratic government ceases to function.
Anyway, I encourage all followers of this blog to read Dutta’s article. Some of it may be incomprehensible, but they’ll decipher enough to decide whether it confirms everything I said in my original post.