Thursday, 26 August 2021

Free Press Extra


The nationwide lockdown has revealed a lot, mainly about the Government’s complacency before it happened. It has also shown how obsessed this Government and much of New Zealand society is with identity politics.

Free Press traversed this ground in its review of Cynical Theories several weeks back. The book defends liberalism, where people are born free and equal, contending with a single objective reality, joined by our common humanity.

That’s a really good way to be since humanity is battling another species, a virus. We need, as the advertising says, to unite. Sadly, the past week has shown us a country where identity politics is more important than showing a united front against the virus. 

Exhibit A has been the hapless Te Paati Māori, the party formerly known as the Māori Party. They have been put on nearly every Select Committee, saying they’re the only people who stand up for indigenous people. (Free Press can only wonder what the Labour Māori caucus, who won six-out-of-seven Māori seats, think of their party supporting this).

They ask the same question at every opportunity, and whoever it is, Sir David Skegg, Ashley Bloomfield, a Minister, must patiently explain statistics. Māori vaccination rates are not much different from everyone else in each age group. The reason Māori are less vaccinated by percentage, they explain, is to do with population age. 

There are fewer Māori in the vaccinated age groups, but more in the under 30 age group that is not even eligible yet.  There are more young Māori, because Māori fertility is higher, and fewer older Māori, because Māori die younger. Whatever we think of those facts, they are the ones we’re dealing with. 

The key issue is that Te Paati Māori either don’t understand statistics, or perhaps they do, but choose a race-based lens when they know better. Either way, they are divisive and unhelpful.

Exhibit B is the constant reference to the fact Pasifika New Zealanders are badly affected by the current outbreak. Again, the problem is with statistics. It is true that most people infected in the current outbreak are Pacific people, but that is not an important or useful observation.

An important and useful observation would be that a group of people who go to a church are the main cluster in the outbreak. It could have been any church. If it was the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell, would we be saying that mainly Pakeha are being hit by COVID? 

The folks dealing with the outbreak report they are now being racially abused. Ashley Bloomfield has lashed out with his usual faux heroism, saying that the abusers are ‘gutless.’ We don’t disagree, but who was it who started out identifying the cluster by race from the podium of truth?

If the people had to be categorised, he probably should have said that they’re churchgoers. Unlike being Samoan, which is an irrelevant detail in this case, churches around the world have been sites of COVID infection. Of course, even that is silly. The point is that large gatherings are a danger in a Delta environment. It could have been a concert. Profiling the gatherers by ethnicity helps nobody.

Exhibit C is the Government’s reporting of test results and vaccination. Its website gives breakdowns by every possible human identity. Who’s been tested and vaccinated by age, ethnicity, gender? Easy to find out, but as ACT has been campaigning all week, what we need to know is how many people who are close contacts, and contacts in general. 

How many contacts have been tested is useful information. We are in lockdown, the South Island especially, because there might still be contacts who are infected. Once the Government has traced all the contacts, that possibility has been eliminated and lockdown can be lifted. Once again identity politics has trumped what is practical for beating the virus.

Exhibit D is the strange exemption for ‘Māori customary’ fishing and food gathering. The Government is clear you can’t fish or hunt under Alert Level 4. Too dangerous. Do we really think viruses respect customary rights? To repeat the theme, identity politics trumps a united human response against a virus.

Sadly, the past eight days have brought to the fore how our Government and much of our politics commodifies people into identities. Dividing humanity hampers humanity’s ability to solve the biggest problem before us right now.